An updated modeling study in The Lancet shows that the number of children globally affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver deaths is estimated to have increased dramatically from about 2.7 million in April 2021 to a devastating 5.2 million in October 2021. To put those numbers In context, researchers indicate that it corresponds to a child every six seconds during the six-month period.
With the pandemic far from over, we have both a moral and public health requirement to protect and support these children from direct and secondary harm. Children’s lives are permanently changed by the loss of a mother, father, grandparent or other primary caregivers. The loss of a parent is a negative childhood experience that is associated with a greater risk of drops out of schoollower self-esteem, suicide, violence, sexual abuse and the development of anxiety, depression and drug abuse problems. These effects may be further exacerbated by the circumstances of the pandemic and additional stressors
The study authors defined orphanhood as the death of one or both parents, the loss of primary caregivers as the death of one or both parents, or of one or both cohabiting guardians aged 60-84, and secondary care loss as the death of one or more cohabiting grandparents or elderly relatives.
The study used mathematical modeling and mortality and fertility data from 21 countries with 76 percent of global deaths due to Covid-19 to estimate the number of children who lost a caregiver. These countries included Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, England and Wales, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, the United States and Zimbabwe.
In fact, the number of children who have lost parents is likely to be far greater than the study estimates due to international coronavirus testing and reporting gaps. In the United States, the CDC only records deaths from Covid-19 and not the survivors. We need to establish national and global institutions to collect this data and allocate resources to provide evidence-based psychosocial and financial support to children who have lost a caregiver.
Children orphaned by AIDS globally are supported through the US President’s AIDS Emergency Plan (PEPFAR). Services include health and nutrition, education, psychosocial care and support, household financial empowerment, parental communication skills and legal protection. Organizations such as FXB International have provided grants, medical care and psychological and social support to families directly affected and infected with HIV / AIDS. We need to develop similar programs for those who have been orphaned by Covid-19.
The study also showed that countries with low vaccination rates had the highest number of children orphaned by Covid-19. This is another critical reason for speeding up the equitable distribution of Covid vaccines globally.
We must intervene and provide support to these children before this becomes a shadow pandemic, the health effects of which will resonate over the coming decades.