'The hidden pandemic': 1.5 million children lost primary caregivers to COVID

Findings have shown families have very little time to prepare children for the trauma that comes with losing a parent because COVID-19 can lead to death within weeks and sometimes days.

Patients are seen lying on hospital beds inside a temporary ward dedicated to the treatment of possible COVID-19 coronavirus patients at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria on 11 January 2021. Picture: Phill Magakoe/AFP

CAPE TOWN - A new global study estimates that every 12 seconds, a child loses a primary caregiver to COVID-19.

This finding was presented in a report titled "Global minimum estimates of children affected by COVID-19 associated orphanhood and deaths of caregivers: a modelling study" that was recently published in The Lancet.

The study was conceptualised and produced by a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Cape Town in partnership with the University of Oxford.

On Tuesday, co-author of the study Professor Lucie Cluver said the objective of the project was to measure the impact the COVID-19 pandemic on orphanhood.

It's revealed that 1.5 million children have lost primary caregivers to the virus.

"Globally, from March 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021, we estimate 1 134 000 children experienced the death of primary caregivers, including at least one parent or custodial grandparent; 1 562 000 children experienced the death of at least one primary or secondary caregiver," the study revealed.

This has been described as a 'hidden pandemic' expected to have long lasting and damaging implications.

Findings have shown families have very little time to prepare children for the trauma that comes with losing a parent because COVID-19 can lead to death within weeks and sometimes days.

Cluver said long term, the effects were far reaching, citing mental health problems and family poverty as some of the consequences children may need to contend with.

Researchers are now calling for an urgent response to improve outcomes for children with diseased caregivers across the world.

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