Around 1.7 billion people, or 22 percent of the world population, have an underlying health condition increasing their risk of developing severe coronavirus symptoms should they be infected, according to a new study.
The study’s authors added that although the research should help governments decide who should be prioritized for protection, not all of these people will necessarily develop severe symptoms.
Instead, the researchers estimate that around 4 percent of the world’s population, 349 million people, would require hospitalization should they be infected with the coronavirus.
“We hope our estimates will provide useful starting points for designing measures to protect those at increased risk of severe disease. This might involve advising people with underlying conditions to adopt social distancing measures appropriate to their level of risk, or prioritizing them for vaccination in the future,” said Dr Andrew Clark, Associate Professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), in a statement carried by LSHTM.
Public and global health authorities have already identified several underlying conditions that could increase a person’s susceptibility to severe COVID-19 symptoms.
These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and chronic kidney disease.
The study, published in peer reviewed journal The Lancet Global Health, used data from other global studies and UN population estimates to formulate its analysis.
Younger populations generally had fewer health conditions, while older populations had more underlying conditions. In Africa, for example, only 16 percent of the population were found to have one or more health conditions, compared to 31 percent in Europe.
Clark warned, however, that this research did not mean that health outcomes were universally better in younger populations.
“The share of the population at increased risk of severe COVID-19 is generally lower in Africa than elsewhere due to much younger country populations, but a much higher proportion of severe cases could be fatal in Africa than elsewhere,” he said.