According to a global study, approximately 1.5 million children worldwide under the age of 18 have lost a parent, grandparent or caregiver to COVID-19.
Hidden pandenmic of orphanhood
Out of those, more than 1 million experienced the death of one or both parents during the first 14 months of the pandemic, leading to what one researcher called ‘the hidden pandemic of orphanhood.’
Another half a million witnessed the death of a grandparent or caregiver while living in their own home, according to a study published inThe Lancet.
Researchers gathered COVID-19 mortality data and national fertility statistics for 21 countries to produce the global estimates.
Dr Susan Hillis, a lead author on the study, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 response team, said:
Our findings highlight the urgent need to prioritise these children and invest in evidence-based programs and services to protect and support them right now and to continue to support them for many years into the future–because orphanhood does not go away.
Help for bereaved children
The HIV and Ebola epidemics have shown how to help bereaved children, said co-author Prof Lucie Cluver, from Oxford University and the University of Cape Town.
We need to support extended families or foster families to care for children, with cost-effective economic strengthening, parenting programs, and school access. We need to vaccinate caregivers of children–especially grandparent caregivers. And we need to respond fast because every 12 seconds a child loses their caregiver to COVID-19.
Countries with the highest rates of children losing their primary caregiver (parent or custodial grandparent) included Peru (1 child per 100, totalling 98,975 children), South Africa (5 children per 1,000, totalling 94,625 children), Mexico (3 children per 1000, totalling 141,132 children), Brazil (2 children per 1,000, totalling 130,363 children) and the US (>1 child per 1,000, totalling 113,708 children).
For almost every country, the mortality ratewas higher in men than women, particularly in middle and older ages. On the whole, up to five times more children lost their fathers than lost their mothers.
The researchers estimate that in England and Wales, 8,497 children have been made orphans during the pandemic, either as a direct result of COVID or because of ‘excess deaths.’