WEDNESDAY, July 21, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- In yet another finding that illustrates the tragic toll the pandemic has taken on families around the world, a new study shows that 1.5 million children have lost a parent, grandparent or other caregiver to COVID-19.
"For every two COVID-19 deaths worldwide, one child is left behind to face the death of a parent or caregiver. By April 30, 2021, these 1.5 million children had become the tragic overlooked consequence of the 3 million COVID-19 deaths worldwide, and this number will only increase as the pandemic progresses," said study co-lead author Susan Hillis, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 Response Team.
To come to that conclusion, the researchers analyzed data from 21 countries and extrapolated those findings to produce global estimates. They noted that their results likely underestimate the actual numbers.
The study was published July 20 in The Lancet.
"Our findings highlight the urgent need to prioritize 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," Hillis said in a journal news release.
Children who have lost a parent or other caregiver are at risk of significant short- and long-term harmful effects on their health, safety and well-being, such as increased risk of disease, physical abuse, sexual violence and teen pregnancy, the researchers warned.
Study author Lucie Cluver said, "We have strong evidence from HIV and Ebola to guide solutions. We need to support extended families or foster families to care for children, with cost-effective economic strengthening, parenting programs and school access." Cluver is a professor at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
"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," Cluver emphasized.
Countries with the highest rates of children losing their primary caregiver (parent or custodial grandparent) included: Peru (1 child per 100, just under 99,000 children), South Africa (5 children per 1,000 — nearly 95,000 children), Mexico (3 children per 1,000 — over 141,000 children), Brazil (2 children per 1,000 — 130,000 children), Colombia (2 children per 1,000 — nearly 33,300 children), Iran (>1 child per 1,000 — just under 41,000 children), United States (>1 child per 1,000 — nearly 114,000 children), and Russian Federation (1 child per 1,000 — almost 30,000 children).
In India, the number of newly orphaned children rose from about 5,100 in March 2021 to over 43,000 in April 2021, an 8.5-fold increase, according to the study authors.
"The hidden pandemic of orphanhood is a global emergency," said study co-lead author Seth Flaxman, from Imperial College London, "and we can ill afford to wait until tomorrow to act."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.
SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, July 20, 2021