Based on official global death toll, the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to have killed over 4.5 million people worldwide, figures. According to the World Health Organization, this number could actually be much worse. Several countries have already seen the life expectancy of their inhabitants falling - it is said to have dropped by 1.5 years in the United States, 4 years in South Africa, 2 years in Russia, 1.6 years in Spain, about 0.5 years in France, etc.
And yet, one cannot deny other consequences –perhaps less visible but very violent with long-term implications. The containment and isolation phases implemented around the world may have generated a deterioration in the level of well-being and health of a certain number of individuals, particularly people suffering from chronic disease. The shockwave and the impacts could be potentially serious in the next few years, or even in the next few months. AXA sought to measure the extent of the phenomenon.
How COVID-19 has changed the overall health of people? In what areas did their health decline or remain stable? To what extent did people experience new health problems or worsen pre-existing conditions? What proportion of individuals gave up treatment or care during the pandemic? For what reasons? Was this absence of treatments or visits compensated by a greater use of telemedicine and digital applications?
AXA wanted to provide answers to these questions and asked Ipsos to conduct a survey in 14 countries around the world among 14,000 people between February 23 and March 19, 2021. Here, Ipsos and AXA present an analysis of the situation in seven emblematic European countries (France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland).
Key findings of the survey:
- 40% of Europeans say their health has worsened compared to before the pandemic (48% of Italians, 46% of Spanish, 43% of British, 40% of French and Belgians, 36% of Germans).
- In detail, almost 1 in 2 Europeans admit that their situation has worsened in many areas: level of anxiety (51% overall say it has deteriorated but 64% in Italy, 55% in France, the UK, Spain and 51% in Belgium), general physical state (47% of Europeans say it is worse, 52% in Italy, 50% in the UK, 49% in Spain and France, 48% in Belgium) or level of tiredness (47% of Europeans but 55% in Italy, 51% in the UK and France, 50% in Spain, 48% in Belgium).
- 72% said it was more difficult for them to access care and healthcare professionals when they needed them during the pandemic (85% in Italy, 76% in the UK and Spain, 75% in Belgium, 66% in Germany, 65% in France and 58% in Switzerland).
- 66% had at least one health problem that appeared or worsened during the pandemic, mainly muscular, joint or bone problems (31%), psychological (30%), digestive (18%), dental (17%), neurological (17%), dermatological (15%), ophthalmological (14%), respiratory (11%) or cardiovascular (10%) problems.
- 45% of those who suffered from health problems during the pandemic said they had given up care, treatment or a visit to a doctor (60% in Spain, 53% in Italy, 42% in Germany and the United Kingdom, 40% in France, 38% in Switzerland and 34% in Belgium). Overall, this situation concerns 31% of Europeans.
- And digital tools have not really improved the situation: few people have used more teleconsultations with their general practitioner (7%) or their specialist (6%) than before the pandemic. Teleconsultation has increased the most in France (12% for general practitioners, 11% for specialists). The use of digital health applications has slightly increased (9%).
The health of 4 out of 10 Europeans worsened during the pandemic period:
At first glance, the situation might seem rather positive, since 64% of Europeans feel they are in good health (10% "very" good and 54% "fairly" good). But this figure must be put into perspective. Firstly, the situation differs from one country to another within the European continent. While 80% of the Swiss say they are in good health, only 50% of Italians say they are in good health. Secondly, on the contrary, more than 1 in 3 Europeans consider their health to be "moderate" (29%) or "poor" (6%).
Above all, 40% of Europeans feel that their health has worsened since the beginning of the pandemic (compared to 43% who say it has not changed, 16% that it has improved and 1% who did not wish to reply). Again, Italians seem to be the most affected by this deterioration (48%), ahead of the Spanish (46%), the British (43%), the French and Belgians (40%), the Germans (36%) and the Swiss (only 29%).
In detail, almost 1 in 2 Europeans admit that their situation has worsened in many areas: level of anxiety (51% overall say it has worsened but 64% in Italy, 55% in France, the UK, Spain and 51% in Belgium), general physical condition (47% overall say it is worse, 52% in Italy, 50% in the UK, 49% in Spain and France, 48% in Belgium) or level of tiredness (47% overall but 55% in Italy, 51% in the UK and France, 50% in Spain, 48% in Belgium). Weight is also an issue on which the situation has deteriorated for many (43% of Europeans): this issue affects almost 1 in 2 Italians and 1 in 2 British (48% in both countries).
¾ of Europeans say that it was more difficult for them, during the epidemic, to access care from healthcare professionals.
72% of them had experienced more difficulty in accessing care and healthcare professionals. The phenomenon is prevalent in all countries, and more so in Italy (85%), in Spain (76%) and in the UK (76%). For these countries, already heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a double whammy since access to medical care has also become more problematic. And yet, other countries have also been very affected by this phenomenon: this is the case for Belgium (75%), Germany (66%), France (65%) and Switzerland (58%).
The difficulties do not end there. The majority of Europeans feel that since the beginning of the epidemic, it has been more difficult for them to monitor and control their health (57%), to know what to do about health problems they encounter (57%) or to find answers to questions they have about their health (56%).
2 out of 3 Europeans have experienced health problems during the epidemic and 1 out of 3 declares not being medically treated, clearly not by choice.
66% had at least one health problem that appeared or worsened during the epidemic, mainly muscular, joint or bone problems (31%), psychological (30%), digestive (18%), dental (17%), neurological (17%), dermatological (15%), ophthalmological (14%), respiratory (11%) or cardiovascular (10%) problems.
Overall, 45% who have encountered these health problems say they have given up care, treatment or a visit (overall, this problem affects 31% of europeans). Here again, the situation differs from one country to another. The majority of Spanish and Italians affected by health problems say they have given up medical care (60% and 53% respectively). But in other countries, many are also concerned: 34% in Belgium, 38% in Switzerland, 40% in France, 42% in Germany and the United Kingdom.
The reasons given are very diverse: only 1/3 of Europeans explain it by the fact that they were able to manage otherwise, by resorting to self-medication for example (36%). The others seem to have suffered from this lack of medical care, either because they were afraid of contracting the virus on their way to a medical visit (37%), or because their doctor was not available (35%), or more rarely because they experienced financial hardships (15%).
The management of Europeans suffering from chronic diseases appears to have been particularly affected during the epidemic.
More than 1 in 3 patients suffering from chronic diseases (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc.) consider that their situation has worsened since the beginning of the epidemic (35%), this is even more the case for Italy and the United Kingdom (41%), but the phenomenon is also found in France (33%), Belgium (34%) or Germany (37%).
Nearly 8 out of 10 patients had at least one health problem that appeared or worsened during the pandemic (78%). Nearly 1 in 2 felt their health was worse than before the epidemic (47%). The majority of patients concerned by these health problems declare that they gave up care, treatment or a consultation (52%).
This medical management of health problems could not really be corrected by greater use of teleconsultation and digital tools.
One can hope that the difficulties encountered in accessing care and health professionals would be partly compensated by a greater use of teleconsultation and digital tools. This has been the case, but not as much as one may expect. Few Europeans say that they have used more teleconsultations with their general practitioner (7%) or specialist (6%) during the epidemic. The French are among those who have done so more than before (12% with their GP and 11% with their specialist) as well as the British (10% and 8% respectively).
Digital health and wellness applications were not used much more during the epidemic either (only 9% said they had downloaded more than before, 21% as much as before, 6% less, while 64% said they had never downloaded any).
The European countries are at the opposite of the spectrum to the behaviour and attitudes of the Chinese people. The latter are the ones who most often declare that if they have given up care, medical visits or treatment, it is because they have more often treated themselves in other ways, in particular by self-medication (51% compared to 36% for Europeans). They are among those who, along with Americans, say they have made more use of teleconsultation with their general practitioner (14% for the Chinese and 26% for the Americans) and have also downloaded applications (20% for the Chinese and 17% for the Americans).
Survey conducted in 14 countries with representative samples of the population aged 18 and over in each country. Interviews were conducted online via Ipsos Access Panel from 23 February to 19 March 2021. The representativeness of the samples was ensured by the quota method applied to gender, age, profession, region and market size.