About 10.5 million children worldwide have lost a parent or caregiver to Covid-19, according to a modeling study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics in early September this year.
Previous studies estimated that about 1.5 million children under the age of 18 had lost a primary or secondary caregiver during the first 14 months of the pandemic. The number calculated now, however, is much higher than earlier similar predictions.
To arrive at this estimate, the authors considered data on excess deaths from the World Health Organization (WHO), Health Metrics and Evaluation, in the USA, and those collected by the British magazine The Economist, in addition to analyzing the fertility rates of each country.
Excess deaths are understood to be the difference between predicted deaths and those observed in a given time interval. In the case of the mentioned study, the period between 1/1/2020 to 5/1/2022 was considered.
Modeling suggests that 7.5 million children were orphaned by one or both parents, while 10.5 million lost parents or close caregivers such as grandparents.
The most affected regions were Southeast Asia, especially Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Nepal, with about 40% of cases; and African countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, with almost 25% of occurrences. The Americas concentrate 14% of cases and Europe, less than 5%.
This will cause serious problems for children in the short and long term. First, the loss of one or both parents has serious economic and social consequences for the family.
In families where the provider dies, there is usually a decrease in economic power; when the mother or person involved in the direct daily care of the children dies, this care is not always adequately replaced.
The traumatic loss of a close relative makes these children more likely to experience mental disorders, abuse of various types, such as sexual and domestic violence, and chronic illness in the future.
In an interview with the journal Nature, the researchers highlighted the importance of decades of research with children whose parents died of AIDS to understand how to reduce the damage of these losses. The data reveal that educational support, economic assistance and support for the caregiver responsible for the child help to lessen the long-term impact of these deaths.
It is also worth noting the short period in which the deaths occurred. This means that in just over two years, millions of children were partially or totally helpless, which means a very large number of people who will need help from already poor states with a deficit in public policies for children.
For this, it is essential to identify these children, most of whom live in low- and middle-income countries, many of whom are previously vulnerable, and organize public policies that address them.
According to the study, only Peru and the United States are working to help children who have lost caregivers to Covid-19.
At the height of the pandemic, we had to deal with the fact that we were facing a disease that was killing millions of individuals worldwide. Now we begin to see an even more bleak scenario: the number of people affected by the direct and indirect consequences of covid-19 will be even greater.