A new study, published Tuesday in The Lancet, has found that over 1.5 million children across the world have lost at least one parent, custodial grandparent, or grandparent who took care of them due to death related to COVID-19 during the first 14 months of the pandemic, according to Science Daily.
The study findings suggest orphanhood as an urgent and overlooked consequence of the COVID pandemic, emphasizing that it is important to provide evidence-based psychosocial and economic support to children who have lost a caregiver.
Traumatic experiences of losing a parent or caregiver are associated with increases in substance use, mental health issues, and other behavioral issues and chronic health conditions.
This study was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that supports research aimed at understanding the impact of trauma on young people, preventing substance use after experiencing hardship, and treating substance use in populations that experience trauma, according to Science Daily.
NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow said, “Studies like this play a crucial role in illuminating the COVID-19 pandemic’s long-lasting consequences for families and the future mental health and wellbeing of children across the globe.”
“Though the trauma a child experiences after the loss of a parent or caregiver can be devastating, there are evidence-based interventions that can prevent further adverse consequences, such as substance use, and we must ensure that children have access to these interventions,” she added.
To estimate COVID pandemic-associated orphan-hood and caregiver deaths, the researchers analyzed mortality and COVID-19 mortality data for 21 countries that accounted for 77% of global COVID-19 deaths from 2020 to early 2021.
The investigators estimated that 1,134,000 children lost a parent, custodial grandparent, or grandparent due to COVID-19-related death.
Of those, 1,042,000 children lost a mother, father, or both; however, most of them lost one, not both parents. Overall, 1,562,000 children are estimated to have experienced the death of at least one parent or a custodial or other co-residing grandparent (or other older relative), per Science Daily.
Study author Dr. Chuck Nelson of Boston Children’s Hospital said, “We know from our research that loss of a parent or caregiver can upend children’s lives and potentially affect their development if they are not in a stable home setting.”
“If we take into consideration variants of concern or possible severity of illness among youth, we must not forget that the pandemic continues to pose a threat to parents and caregivers — and their children,” said Charles Nelson, III, Ph.D., study author, Boston Children’s Hospital. The article was published in Science Daily.