Income inequality and its association with COVID-19 cases and deaths: a cross-country analysis in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
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There is limited evidence on the associations between economic and social disparities in the Eastern Mediterranean region (EMR) with COVID-19 infections and deaths. This study aims to investigate the relationship between income inequalities using Gini coefficients and COVID-19 cases and deaths per million population in the EMR countries. Country-level data on monthly COVID-19 cases and deaths between March 2020 and October 2021, along with data on selected confounders, were collected from publicly available databases. Mixed-effect negative binomial and inverse hyperbolic sine transformation regressions were estimated to examine the association. The study showed that, in the EMR, a unit increase in Gini coefficient is associated with approximately 7.2% and 3.9% increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths per million population, respectively. The magnitude and direction of the association between income inequality and COVID-19 cases and deaths per-million population still remain the same after excluding four warzone countries from the analysis. This increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths is underpinned by the fact that a large number of the population in the region is living in conditions of poverty, with inadequate housing, comorbidities and limited or virtually no access to essential healthcare services. Healthcare policy-makers across countries in the region need to implement effective interventions in areas of income inequality, where it may be linked to increasing the risk of COVID-19 cases and deaths.