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Study Links Chilean Covid-19 Mortality to Socioeconomic Status 

A recent study published in Science Magazine found a strong connection between socioeconomic status and mortality rates in Santiago. The study was conducted by researchers from Chilean, US, and British universities. It also details various factors that contribute to this situation. 

As Covid-19 continues to disrupt life in Santiago despite an immensely successful vaccination campaign, some areas struggle more with rising infections. This development is closely related to socioeconomic status, a recent study has found.

Chronic under- and misreporting of Covid-19 numbers makes it difficult to track the effects of the pandemic in South American countries. Chile’s former Health Minister, Jaime Mañalich, even had to admit that the government reported different numbers to the WHO than to the public.

To deal with the problem, researchers from several Chilean, US, and British universities conducted a study, published in late April, on the link between socioeconomic status and Covid-19 mortality in Santiago. 

Socio-Geographical Divide

The geography of Chile’s capital is pretty neatly divided according to socioeconomic status, making it relatively easy to track deaths and severe cases across localities. The researchers accorded Vitacura district the highest socioeconomic status (SES) and La Pintana the lowest. In one of the most telling figures, Vitacura reported 22.6 weekly cases per 10,000 individuals during the hemispheric winter season while La Pintana registered 76.5. While not alarming on the surface, the figures caught researchers’ attention when they uncovered that not just at-risk groups were affected more in low-income areas but the entire population. 

Researchers emphasized greater age disparity in deaths between lower-SES districts and more affluent ones, meaning cases in each district did not necessarily relate to age. The researchers were surprised to find a “higher death burden in lower SES municipalities, independent of their age composition,” as younger groups were previously considered to be at lower risk.  

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Reasons and Hypothesis

A hypothesis posited that residents in poorer areas could not afford to stay at home during lockdowns as they rarely can access home-based work, which led to greater virus circulation. Analysis of mobile phone data, provided by Facebook from devices with location services enabled, seemed to confirm this hypothesis. Mobility in the highest income districts fell by up to 61% during lockdowns but only by around 40% in the lowest income areas.

The research also found a link between wait times for test results and death rates. According to the study, timeliness – the time it took until a result was delivered – was the biggest sticking point. Results were delivered faster in high-income and slower in low-income areas, and this “slower turnaround in test results can lead to greater potential for transmission.”

In addition, healthcare quality differs greatly according to socioeconomic status. In this context, citizens in poorer areas often suffer from treatable illnesses which could exacerbate the severity of Covid-19. The scientists believe that these reasons, as well as general unpreparedness and deficient access to emergency services, contribute to higher Covid-19 mortality in poorer areas.

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