Last year, numbers emerged showing an estimated 5.2 million children had lost a parent or caregiver to COVID through October. Now, a "heartbreaking" update on that toll, per a new global study that finds almost 8 million kids 18 and under were left grieving one or both parents or another primary caregiver due to COVID between the start of the pandemic and May 1 of this year, with "devastating and enduring" consequences. NPR notes that when the deaths of secondary caregivers, such as grandparents, is factored in, that number jumps to 10.5 million. The greatest number of children affected in this way live in Africa and Southeast Asia. In India, which has suffered the most loss in terms of sheer numbers, 3.5 million kids are now mourning a parent or caregiver.
Bolivia and Peru, meanwhile, have shown the highest rates of affected children, with 1 out of every 50 kids claiming a lost parent or caregiver to COVID. In the United States, more than 250,000 or so children have suffered the same loss. "Consequences for children can be devastating, including institutionalization, abuse, traumatic grief, mental health problems, adolescent pregnancy, poor educational outcomes, and chronic and infectious diseases," a research letter on the study published Tuesday in the JAMA Pediatrics journal notes. And then there's the financial aspect of it all, as families who've lost a head of household or other caregiver often suffer from loss of income, which can lead to food and housing insecurity and a possible move elsewhere, notes NPR.
"Then there's disengagement at school and then disengagement with friendships, with things previously that made them happy or helped them learn," says University College London psychologist Lorraine Sherr. "So you have this kind of huge cascade of losses." The CDC lays out a three-pronged approach of "prevent" (meaning keep deaths at bay in the first place via vaccination and other health measures), "prepare" (using "family-based care support services"), and "protect," offering support to affected kids using "evidence-based strategies." But some say governments, including the US', still aren't doing enough, or are only concentrating on the "prevent" part of the solution. "When you have deaths of this magnitude, certainly without help you can weaken the fabric of a society in the future if you don't take care of the children today," lead author Susan Hillis tells the Washington Post. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)