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COVID-19-associated orphanhood

The objective of this research was to measure the impact the COVID‑19 pandemic has had on orphanhood globally. The researchers used mathematical modelling and mortality and fertility data from 21 countries, including 76% of global COVID‑19‑related deaths, to estimate the number of children who had lost a caregiver. Some children lost one or both parents, while others lost grandparents and other primary caregivers. Researchers estimate that between 1 March 2020 and 30 April 2021, 1 562 000 children experienced the death of at least one primary or secondary caregiver, while 1 134 000 children lost a primary caregiver and at least one parent or custodial parent.

These numbers will only increase as the pandemic continues. In responding to this crisis, we must advance equitable vaccine delivery, support kinship or foster care and avoid institutionalisation, and support families to care for children with deceased parents or caregivers. Low‑cost accelerator approaches focused on family strengthening – a subset of the same strategies that have proven effective in preventing violence – can improve multiple outcomes for children with deceased caregivers, showing the urgent need for accelerator programmes to be adapted according to the COVID‑19 context.

Arising from this research, Principal Investigator Prof Lucie Cluver and Co-Directors Prof Lorraine Sherr and Dr Chris Desmond contributed to the article published in The Lancet titled “Global minimum estimates of children affected by COVID-19 associated orphanhood and deaths of caregivers: a modelling study” and a research report titled “Children: The Hidden Pandemic 2021”.


Professor Lucie Cluver (Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford & Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, United Kingdom & South Africa)
Professor Lorraine Sherr (University College London, United Kingdom)
Dr Chris Desmond (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)

World Health Organization
The World Bank
United States’ Centre for Disease Control
United States Agency for International Development

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