Over 5 Million Children Orphaned From COVID-19: Lancet Study

Over 5 Million Children Orphaned From COVID-19: Lancet Study
In the United States, the study found 149,300 children getting orphaned in the 20-month period from March 1, 2020 to Oct. 31, 2021. (Maria Evseyeva/Shutterstock)
Naveen Athrappully

More than five million children worldwide have been orphaned since the COVID-19 pandemic started, claims a Feb. 24 update of a Lancet study that studied data through October 2021.

The previous study had looked into COVID-19 orphanhood that occurred in the 14 months between March 1, 2020, and April 30, 2021, and found there were 2,737,300 orphans during this period. The updated study extended the analysis to six additional months between May 2, 2021, and Oct. 31, 2021, and identified an extra 2,463,100 orphans.

“For the entire 20-month period (March 1, 2020, to Oct. 31, 2021), we estimate that a minimum of 3,367,000 children have been orphaned globally and that 3,550,000 children have lost their primary caregivers. An additional 1,650,300 children experienced death of secondary caregivers,” said the report.

“Globally, the cumulative minimum number of children affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver death (of) 5,200,300 exceeded the reported number of COVID-19 deaths (at) 5.0 million.” Orphanhood estimates were higher than COVID-19 deaths in African, Southeast Asian, and the eastern Mediterranean region.

A large variation in the number of orphaned children was noticed among the 20 nations under the study, with Germany seeing 2,400 new orphans while India witnessing 1,917,100 orphans. In terms of orphans per 1,000 children, Peru ranked highest with a rate of 8.28 followed by South Africa at 7.22.

In the United States, the study found 149,300 children were orphaned in the 20-month period. Among children up to the age of four years, there were 30,200 orphans, while among those aged between five and nine years, there were 38,100 orphans. The highest number of orphans were between 10 and 17 years of age, with 81,000. This demographic also saw the highest orphanhood in countries like India, South Africa, Peru, and Mexico.

Children left without caregivers during the pandemic tended to lose their fathers more than mothers. Worldwide, 76.5 percent of orphans were paternal orphans while only 23.5 percent were maternal orphans. In all 20 nations studied, the number of paternal orphans exceeded maternal orphans.

The orphanhood estimates are likely to be underestimated according to Dr. Juliette Unwin, lead author of the study. “For example, WHO estimates accurate data for COVID-19 deaths in Africa are limited, and the real estimates are likely to be 10 times higher than what is currently being reported,” Unwin said to Imperial College London.

“Consequently, these under-reported deaths mean that COVID-19-related orphanhood and caregiver loss is also drastically underestimated. Real-time updated data suggests the true totals reached 6.7 million children as of January 2022.”

Another study published in the Pediatrics Journal in October had estimated the number of American children who lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 to be over 140,000 children between April 2020 and June 2021. This number has increased to more than 200,000 children at present, Dr. Charles Nelson, a co-author of the study, recently told Newsweek.