At least 5.2 million minors lost a parent to COVID

A new study reveals that globally, at least 5.2 million children have lost a parent, caregiver, or been orphaned by COVID.

The work published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health analyzed COVID orphans in 21 countries between the start of the pandemic and October 2021.

The authors of the analysis, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USAID, the World Bank and University College London, consider this figure to be conservative. Many countries lack proper case registration systems; for example, in some regions of Africa, cases and deaths are believed to be 10 times higher than official figures indicate.

76% of minors lost their father, and 23% their mother. Two out of every 3 minors who lost one of their parents are adolescents, indicates the work product of international cooperation.

The countries where the deaths of relatives or caregivers due to COVID were analyzed were: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, England and Wales, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, United States and Zimbabwe.

Globally, for every reported death from COVID-19, at least one child experienced orphanhood or the death of a caregiver. For regions with higher total fertility rates, such as areas in Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Southeast Asia, the number of children affected by orphanhood and caregiver deaths exceeded the number of total deaths from COVID-19.

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The researchers note that the data collected suggests that “rapid acceleration of vaccine uptake is strategically necessary” to decrease these deaths, as several of the countries with the highest orphans from COVID have low immunization rates.

In addition, they emphasize the need to include social care and mental health strategies for this population of minors in COVID recovery plans. This, they add, should be a priority action. The loss of a parent can push the child or adolescent out of the school system, making them more vulnerable to food and housing insecurity, family disintegration, exploitation and violence.

Comprehensive age- and circumstance-sensitive responses to bereaved children can restore hope and build resilience, the study discussion highlights.

Lessons from other epidemics demonstrate the compounding social, economic, and psychological ramifications of orphanhood and the effective benefits of multifactorial interventions. “Support for such interventions by government, civil society, and religious sectors can deflect accumulated stressors, alleviate mounting suffering, and help children find strength, experience growth, and develop new skills.”

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