About 1.5 million children have lost a parent, grandparent or primary caregiver due to Covid-19, a new study has estimated.
The research, published in medical journal The Lancet, found more than one million children worldwide experienced the death of one or both parents during the first 14 months of the pandemic while another half a million faced the death of a grandparent caregiver living in their own home.
The findings suggest that at least 1,134,000 children experienced the death of their mother, father, or custodial grandparents as a consequence of Covid-19.
Of these, an estimated 1,042,000 lost either their mother or father or both.
Overall, 1,562,000 children are estimated to have experienced the death of at least one parent or a custodial grandparent (or another older relative).
Countries which had the highest rates of children losing family members included Peru, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Iran, the US and Russia.
Before the pandemic, there were an estimated 140 million orphaned children worldwide.
Figures have been estimated based on Covid-19 mortality data from March 2020 to April 2021 and national fertility statistics for 21 countries. The global data was then concluded based on the figures.
The researchers said children who lose a parent or caregiver are at risk of short and long-term adverse effects on their health, safety and wellbeing.
Dr Susan Hillis, one of the lead authors on the study and who is from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Covid-19 Response Team, said: “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 three million Covid-19 deaths worldwide, and this number will only increase as the pandemic progresses.
“Our findings highlight the urgent need to prioritise these children and invest in evidence-based programmes and services to protect and support them right now and to continue to support them for many years into the future.”
Dr Seth Flaxman, another lead author from Imperial College London, said: “The hidden pandemic of orphanhood is a global emergency, and we can ill afford to wait until tomorrow to act.
“We urgently need to identify the children behind these numbers and strengthen monitoring systems, so that every child can be given the support they need to thrive.”
The study was conducted by researchers from the US Centres for Disease Control Covid-19 Response Team, Imperial College London, the University of Oxford, the University of Copenhagen, University of Cape Town, the World Health Organisation, University College London, Maestral International, the US Agency for International Development, World Without Orphans, World Bank Group and Harvard Medical School.