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Covid Deaths: Developed Versus Developing Countries

  • 01 Jan 2021
  • 4 min read

Why in News

As per a new study, better hygiene and sanitation in the rich and developed countries could, paradoxically, be one of the reasons for the high rates of coronavirus-related deaths lending credence to what is known as the ‘hygiene hypothesis’

Key Points

  • The Study:
    • The study is based on analysis of data until 29th June 2020, by which time more than 5 lakh deaths had been reported with 70% of it in high-income countries.
    • It correlated coronavirus deaths in several countries with indicators such as Gross Domestic Product, population density, human development index rating, demography, sanitation and hygiene, and prevalence of autoimmune diseases.
  • Findings:
    • Case of Developed Countries:
      • Among countries with the highest rates of death per million of population are Belgium, Italy and Spain, where more than 1,200 have died per million. The US and the UK have more than 1,000 deaths per million of population.
    • India Specific Findings:
      • In contrast, India has seen just about 110 deaths per million, less than half the world average of about 233. Most other South Asian countries, as also in rest of Asia and Africa, have much lower death rates.
    • The Paradox:
      • The lower-income countries, with higher population densities and much lower sanitation standards, seem to have recorded much fewer coronavirus-related deaths compared to richer and more developed countries.
    • Exceptions:
      • Countries such as Japan, Finland, Norway, Monaco or Australia have also recorded very low death rates.
    • Other factors Involved:
      • Stage of the epidemic,
      • Lower reporting/testing in less developed countries that could also affect the mortality numbers.
      • It found that ‘hygiene hypothesis’ could be one of the reasons for the same.

Hygiene Hypothesis

  • According to the Hygiene hypothesis’, people in countries with low sanitation standards get exposed to communicable diseases at an early age and develop stronger immunity, helping them to ward off diseases later in life, a phenomenon called ‘immune training’.
  • Conversely, people in richer countries have better access to healthcare and vaccines, and things like clean drinking water, due to which they remain safer from such infectious diseases. Paradoxically, this also means that their immune system remains unexposed to such dangers.
  • This hypothesis is also sometimes used to explain the prevalence of auto-immune diseases, in which the immune system sometimes ‘overreacts’ and starts attacking the body’s own cells, leading to disorders like type-1 diabetes mellitus or multiple sclerosis.
  • However, few suggest that it would be better if the hypothesis were renamed, e.g. as the ‘microbial exposure’ hypothesis, or ‘microbial deprivation’ hypothesis. Avoiding the term ‘hygiene’ would help focus attention on determining the true impact of microbes, while minimizing risks of discouraging good hygiene practice.

Source: IE

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