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A new study estimates that at least 5.2 million children worldwide lost a parent or other caregiver to Covid-19 in the first 19 months of the pandemic.
“Children are in great pain now and need our help,” said Susan Hillis, senior researcher at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study, which was published in the medical journal The Lancet on Thursday.
The study was based on data from 20 countries, including India, the United States and Peru, and was carried out by an international research team comprising experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and several colleges and universities.
He warns that a child who loses a parent or carer could suffer negative effects, including an increased risk of poverty, sexual abuse, mental health problems and intense stress.
An earlier study, focusing on the first 13 months of the pandemic, arrived at an estimate of 1.5 million children affected. The new figure is much higher not only because it adds data for another six months, the researchers say, but also because the first estimate was a significant undercount. Using updated figures on Covid-related deaths, researchers now calculate that at least 2.7million children have lost a parent or carer in the first 13 months.
The new study covers data through October 2021 and does not include the latest surge in cases of the Omicron variant, which has undoubtedly added to the toll.
“It took 10 years for five million children to be orphaned by HIV/AIDS, while the same number of children were orphaned by Covid-19 in just two years,” said Lorraine Sherr, professor of psychology at University College London and author. of the study, said in a statement.
Davyon Johnson, 11, of Muskogee, Okla., is one of millions of children to have lost a parent – in his case, his father, Willie James Logan, who died two days after being hospitalized with Covid in August 2021.
“It’s been a rocky road, I’ll put it like that,” Davyon’s mother, LaToya Johnson, said in an interview.
Davyon dealt with the grief as best he could, she said. His grades are always good. He always looks forward to seeing friends. Yet there are days when they are both exhausted.
“Up and down – up and down,” Ms Johnson said of their emotions. “He’s the one who wants to call his dad and can’t.”
Darcey Merritt, a New York University child protection professor who was not involved in the study, said the deaths of parents and caregivers would have a “long and profound impact” on children, especially those from low-income households.
Children of color in the United States, she added, are particularly at risk of negative consequences.
A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics found that 1 in 168 American Indian or Alaska Native children, 1 in 310 Black children, 1 in 412 Hispanic children and 1 in 612 Asian children had lost a caregiver, to one in 753 white children.
The study published in The Lancet found that two out of three orphaned children are between the ages of 10 and 17, and the majority of children who have lost a parent have lost their father.
Juliette Unwin, lead author of the study from Imperial College London, said in a statement that as the researchers receive more data, they expect the numbers to increase “10 times more than what which is currently reported”.
“The pandemic is still raging around the world,” Dr Unwin said, “which means that orphans linked to Covid-19 will also continue to increase.”