Mortality increased more among people with disabilities than the general population in the first year of the coronavirus epidemic in 2020

Publication date 17.1.2024 9.12 | Published in English on 17.1.2024 at 14.30
News item

During the first year of the coronavirus epidemic in 2020, mortality increased more among working-age people with disabilities than the rest of the population.

The mortality rate of men and women on disability benefits increased by 26 and 27 per cent respectively, while in the rest of the population, the mortality rate of same-age men increased by 12 per cent and that of same-age women decreased by 8 per cent.

For people on disability benefits, the increase in mortality was highest among women aged 35–44 and men aged 16–24 and 55–64.

This is indicated by a study by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), which examined the mortality rate of people aged 16–64 who received the Social Insurance Institution Kela's disability benefits in 2019 and 2020. In 2020, 20,328 people received disability benefits, 261 of whom died during the year – 1.5 per cent of men and 1.1 per cent of women. 

Several international studies have shown that people with disabilities have a significantly higher risk of COVID-19-related mortality. The risk of mortality has increased especially among people with intellectual disabilities and those with Down syndrome.

"The vulnerability of people with disabilities to severe COVID-19 outcomes can be increased, for example, by the higher prevalence of risk factors, such as chronic diseases, and the greater risk of exposure due to use of housing services or the need for other assistance," says Mika Gissler, Research Professor at THL.

According to Gissler, however, it is not possible to know the causes of death based on the material available, or in other words, to accurately determine the cause of the increase in mortality among people with disabilities or long-term illnesses.

A more comprehensive picture of COVID-19-related mortality in Finland will require further analysis of the entire epidemic from 2020 to 2023.

"Analysing the entire period could help us understand the impacts of the measures taken during the epidemic from the perspective of disability. Equality and fairness in society require the identification of and response to the special needs of different population groups – also in emergency conditions," states Päivi Nurmi-Koikkalainen, Chief Specialist at THL.

Contact information

Mika Gissler
Research Professor
Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare
Tel. +358 29 524 7279
E-mail: [email protected]

Marika Korhonen
Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare
Tel. +358 29 524 7506
E-mail: [email protected]

Päivi Nurmi-Koikkalainen
Chief Specialist
Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
Tel. +358 29 524 7454
E-mail: [email protected]

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