Almost 15 million global excess deaths by the end of 2021 were caused by COVID, according to figures released by the World Health Organisation.
It estimates a total of 336.8 million life-years were lost globally due to the pandemic which was declared early 2020.
This means that, on average, each excess death led to a loss of more than 22 years of life, with the highest amount lost in people aged 55-64.
The report is the clearest indication yet of the devastating legacy of the pandemic on a global scale.
The WHO’s assessment of global health also calls for a worldwide response to the growing threat of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancers, heart disorders and diabetes which it warns if left unchecked could account for 86% of all deaths by 2050.
Despite progress in medicine, NCDs, now claim nearly three quarters of all lives lost each year.
If this trend continues, NCDs are projected to account for about 86% of the 90 million annual deaths by mid-century, warns the WHO’s World Health Statistics report.
It means 77 million of deaths will be due to NCDs – a nearly 90% increase since 2019.
The WHO calls for “decisive and collective” action to tackle what it describes as “an ever-increasing health threat for future generations”.
WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “The world must heed the lessons of the last two decades, including the tragedy of these pandemic years.
“One of the most important of those is the knowledge that we have it in our power to avoid unnecessary deaths and illness, and create stronger, more equitable and resilient health systems and societies.”
There are also wider concerns about how the pandemic has exacerbated health inequalities and dented improvements in tackling Malaria, TB and so-called neglected tropical diseases.
This year’s report includes for the first time a dedicated section on climate change and health and calls for a “coordinated and strengthened response”.