We Must Support The Children Orphaned By Covid-19

Much of the focus of Covid-19 has been on the astronomical death toll and case numbers, yet this fixation neglects to consider the impact on those left behind by loved ones. A recent study in The Lancet estimates that globally 1,134 000 children experienced the death of primary caregivers, including at least one parent or custodial grandparent, and 1,562 000 children experienced the death of at least one primary or secondary caregiver. Between two and five times more children had deceased fathers than deceased mothers.

The study used mathematical modeling and mortality and fertility data from 21 countries with 76 percent of global deaths from 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, Philippines, Poland, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, United States, and Zimbabwe. The countries with the highest numbers of children who lost primary caregivers (parents or custodial grandparents) included South Africa, Peru, United States, India, Brazil, and Mexico. The scale of family loss from Covid-19 has not been seen since AIDS first rampaged through sub-Saharan Africa. As global vaccine disparities widen, lower-income and underresourced countries will begin to shoulder a greater burden of caregiver deaths associated with Covid-19.

In reality, the number of children who have lost parents is probably far greater than the study estimates due to international coronavirus testing and reporting gaps. In the US, the CDC only records deaths from Covid-19 and not the survivors left behind. We need to establish domestic and global institutions to collect this data and allocate resources to provide evidence-based psychosocial and economic support to children who have lost a caregiver.

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Originally published on Forbes on August 10, 2021 
© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.