Measuring disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) due to COVID-19 in Scotland, 2020


Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) combine the impact of morbidity and mortality and can enable comprehensive, and comparable, assessments of direct and indirect health harms due to COVID-19. Our aim was to estimate DALYs directly due to COVID-19 in Scotland, during 2020; and contextualise its population impact relative to other causes of disease and injury.


National deaths and daily case data were used. Deaths were based on underlying and contributory causes recorded on death certificates. We calculated DALYs based on the COVID-19 consensus model and methods outlined by the European Burden of Disease Network. DALYs were presented as a range, using a sensitivity analysis based on Years of Life Lost estimates using: cause-specific; and COVID-19 related deaths. All COVID-19 estimates were for 2020.


In 2020, estimates of COVID-19 DALYs in Scotland ranged from 96,500 to 108,200. Direct COVID-19 DALYs were substantial enough to be framed as the second leading cause of disease and injury, with only ischaemic heart disease having a larger impact on population health. Mortality contributed 98% of total DALYs.


The direct population health impact of COVID-19 has been very substantial. Despite unprecedented mitigation efforts, COVID-19 developed from a single identified case in early 2020 to a condition with an impact in Scotland second only to ischaemic heart disease. Periodic estimation of DALYs during 2021, and beyond, will provide indications of the impact of DALYs averted due to the national rollout of the vaccination programme and other continued mitigation efforts, although new variants may pose significant challenges.


Burden of disease; COVID-19; DALY; European burden of disease network; Scottish burden of disease; YLD; YLL; coronavirus; disability-adjusted life years; population health.

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