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WHO: Nearly 36 million in Europe suffering from 'long COVID'

June 27, 2023

According to the UN health agency, COVID-19 is still responsible for over 1,000 deaths a week in the European region. However, this can be an underestimation as many countries no longer maintain proper data.

A doctor adjusts a mask on an elderly patient
The WHO director for Europe said that unless treatments are developed for long COVID, 'we will never truly recover from the pandemic'Image: PantherMedia/picture alliance

One in 30 Europeans may have developed "long COVID" in the first three years of the pandemic, the World Health Organization's (WHO) European office said on Tuesday, warning that the coronavirus has not gone away.

Since 2020, nearly 36 million people in the European region are believed to have contracted long-lasting health problems after being infected with COVID-19, the global health body said.

Addressing a press conference in Copenhagen on Tuesday, WHO regional director Hans Kluge stressed that "long COVID remains a complex condition we still know very little about."

He described the condition as a "glaring blindspot in our knowledge." To understand COVID-19 more accurately, there is much more need to be done, he added.

Study highlights risk factors for Long COVID

Still over 1,000 COVID deaths per week

Kluge also noted that without developing comprehensive diagnostics and forms of treatment, society will never truly recover from the pandemic. 

According to the UN health agency, COVID-19 is still responsible for over 1,000 deaths per week in the European region. The actual number is believed to be much higher, as many countries no longer maintain proper data on deaths

Last month, the WHO declared that COVID-19 was no longer a global health emergency. But noting the recent spikes in cases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, the agency said that the announcement did not mean that the pandemic has ended.

"Whilst it may not be a global public health emergency, however, COVID-19 has not gone away," Kluge told the reporters.

A person loads a syringe from a COVID-19 vaccine vial
People with underlying medical conditions are urged to get vaccinatedImage: Christof Stache/AFP

Calls to keep up vaccinations

The WHO also called for more research in the field which he called an under-recognized condition.

"Long COVID" is the term used to describe the development of new symptoms, months after the initial COVID-19 infection, with these symptoms lasting for at least 8 weeks.

It can affect anyone exposed to coronavirus, regardless of age or severity of the original symptoms.

Kluge urged health officials to ensure vaccination coverage of at least 70% for vulnerable groups.

The WHO European region has 53 countries under it, spanning from western Europe to as far as Central Asia.

 ara/rs (AP, dpa)