Comparative study evaluates the COVID-19 associated health and economic burden in Canada

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In a recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers determined the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and temporal productivity loss (TPL) in Canada and compared decrease in life expectancy between Australia and Canada to determine the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic based on differences in pandemic related policies.

Study: Losses of Life Expectancy and Productivity Associated with COVID-19 Pandemic in Canada: Policy Implication for Future Communicable Disease Control. Image Credit: Angelina Bambina/Shutterstock
Study: Losses of Life Expectancy and Productivity Associated with COVID-19 Pandemic in Canada: Policy Implication for Future Communicable Disease Control. Image Credit: Angelina Bambina/Shutterstock

Background

The COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented number of deaths worldwide, and the social restrictions, such as lockdowns that had been enforced to limit the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) caused serious economic losses across the globe. Furthermore, the debilitating nature of the disease and the persistent symptoms such as fatigue and dyspnea resulted in further loss of productivity among the labor force.

Canada and Australia are two countries with similar backgrounds that have contrasting approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the prominent causes of death among the Canadian and Australian populations are similar.

However, while Australia closed its borders and established stringent quarantine measures and school closures immediately after the initial COVID-19 cases, Canada deferred these measures to March 2020. Before July 2021, when vaccines became available, the incidence and mortality cases in Canada were over 1,000,000 and 26,000, respectively, while those in Australia were just above 30,000 and 900, respectively.

About the study

In the present study, the researchers calculated DALYs to determine the COVID-19-associated societal health burden in both countries. Furthermore, apart from estimating TPL, they also determined the permanent productivity loss (PPL) using a human capital approach to determine the loss of productivity during the pandemic. The productivity loss was also estimated from the perspective of forgone earnings during the pandemic with the aim of policy development for situations requiring the control of a communicable disease in the future.

The researchers first assessed the population health differences between Canada and Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic and used a difference-in-differences (DID) model to determine how the pandemic impacted life expectancies in the two countries. As Australia was seen to be less affected, data from Health Canada was used to estimate DALYs to determine disease burden. The estimated DALYs were then corroborated with productivity loss for various age groups to understand the impact of the pandemic on human capital. Additionally, the permanent and temporary productivity losses were calculated for individuals above the age of 15 across age and sex-based groups.

Results

The results suggested that Canada had a greater loss in life expectancy than Australia in all age groups, including people below the age of 70. The estimated DALYs in Canada for males and females were 6.493 and 5.316 per 1000 people, respectively. The years of life lost due to COVID-19-associated mortality and the years living with disability were estimated to be 5.897 and 0.596 for Canadian males, respectively, while those for females in Canada were 4.654 and 0.662, respectively.

The PPL calculated for the Canadian economy was close to $5.3 billion and the temporary production loss between February 2020 and April 2022 was found to be $3 billion, cumulatively accounting for a loss of 0.477% of the 2019 gross domestic product (GDP). The loss in temporary earnings was the highest among males and females between the ages of 35 and 44, while males between the ages of 55 and 64 suffered the greatest loss in lifetime productivity due to COVID-19-associated premature mortality. The comparisons using the DID model also indicated that women in both countries had a higher life expectancy than men.

Among individuals above the age of 70, the years of life lost due to COVID-19-related death were comparable to that in Italy, one of the countries most affected by the pandemic. The authors believe that these significant differences in the loss of life expectancy, as well as permanent and temporary loss of productivity between Canada and Australia, can be explained by the contrasting approaches in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings indicated that swift decisions in the initial stage of the pandemic limited the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections in Australia, eventually reducing the impact on public health and the country’s economy. In contrast, a delay in enforcing disease mitigation measures significantly increased the societal health burden and economic losses in Canada.

Conclusions

Overall, the results suggested that establishing quarantine policies and mitigation measures early during the outbreak of communicable diseases can significantly reduce the loss of lives and productivity. Additionally, other measures such as a hybrid working environment or facilities to work from home, as well as providing a safe working environment and personal protective equipment can further reduce the economic and health burden.

Journal reference:
Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Written by

Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Chinta Sidharthan is a writer based in Bangalore, India. Her academic background is in evolutionary biology and genetics, and she has extensive experience in scientific research, teaching, science writing, and herpetology. Chinta holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the Indian Institute of Science and is passionate about science education, writing, animals, wildlife, and conservation. For her doctoral research, she explored the origins and diversification of blindsnakes in India, as a part of which she did extensive fieldwork in the jungles of southern India. She has received the Canadian Governor General’s bronze medal and Bangalore University gold medal for academic excellence and published her research in high-impact journals.

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