At least 17 million people in the WHO European Region experienced long COVID in the first two years of the pandemic according to the WHO.
New modelling conducted for WHO/Europe by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in the United States shows that in the first two years of the pandemic, at least 17 million individuals across the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region may have experienced post COVID-19 condition, also known as long COVID. In other words, an estimated 17 million people met the WHO criteria of a new case of long COVID with symptom duration of at least three months in 2020 and 2021.
The modelling indicates a staggering 307% increase in new long COVID cases identified between 2020 and 2021, driven by the rapid increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases from late 2020 and throughout 2021. The modelling also suggests that females are twice as likely as males to experience long COVID. Furthermore, the risk increases dramatically among severe COVID-19 cases needing hospitalization, with one in three females and one in five males likely to develop long COVID.
“While there is much we still need to learn about long COVID, especially how it presents in vaccinated versus unvaccinated populations and how it impacts reinfections, this data highlights the urgent need for more analysis, more investment, more support, and more solidarity with those who experience this condition,” said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Millions of people in our Region, straddling Europe and central Asia, are suffering debilitating symptoms many months after their initial COVID-19 infection. They cannot continue to suffer in silence. Governments and health partners must collaborate to find solutions based on research and evidence.”
WHO/Europe urges countries to take post COVID-19 condition seriously by urgently investing in research, recovery, and rehabilitation.