Children orphaned due to COVID-19 continues to surge during pandemic

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Sad orphan boy

The numbers of children orphaned due to COVID-19 continues to grow rapidly and is accelerating, according to new research.

The latest updated figures suggest that a minimum of five million children around the world have experienced the death of a mother, father or a grandparent caregiver since the start of the pandemic.

"Sadly, surges in cases and deaths results in surges in the number of orphans." Dr Juliette Unwin School of Public Health

A team of international collaborators, The Global Reference Group on Children Affected by COVID-19, used data-driven methods to produce global estimates and held a webinar to communicate the recent results.

Speaking at the webinar Dr Juliette Unwin, from the School of Public Health, said: "Sadly, surges in cases and deaths results in surges in the number of orphans. The hidden pandemic of global orphanhood will have a serious long term impact on children for generations to come. Our updated estimates suggest that in the past 5 months an additional 2.3 million children have lost care.” 

The research group includes experts from Imperial's Department of Mathematics and the School of Public Healthcolleagues at the CDC in the US, the University of Oxford, the University of Cape Town, the World Bank, USAID, Harvard University, UCL, WHO, World Without Orphans, and Maestral International.

In July, researchers published a landmark study in the Lancet that revealed the first global estimates of the cost of the pandemic on children based on COVID-19 mortality data from March 2020 through April 2021.

Orphanhood in the US

More than 140,000 children in the US have lost a primary or secondary caregiver due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new modelling study published today in Pediatrics reveals.

Data collected from April 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, shows that approximately 1 out of 500 children in the United States has experienced COVID-19-associated orphanhood or death of a grandparent caregiver.

The analysis used mortality, fertility, and census data to estimate COVID-19-associated orphanhood (death of one or both parents) and deaths of custodial and co-residing grandparents between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, for the U.S. broadly, and for every state.

Overall, the states with large populations – California, Texas, and New York – had the highest number of children facing COVID-19 associated death of primary caregivers.

The study also found that there were significant racial and ethnic disparities in caregiver deaths due to COVID-19.

The research was a collaboration between researchers at Imperial, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Harvard University, Oxford University, and the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Dr Alexandra Blenkinsop, co-lead researcher, from the Department of Mathematics, said: “The magnitude of young people affected is a sobering reminder of the devastating impact of the past 18 months. These findings really highlight those children who have been left most vulnerable by the pandemic, and where additional resources should be directed.”

Susan Hillis, CDC researcher and lead author of the study, said: “Children facing orphanhood as a result of COVID is a hidden, global pandemic that has sadly not spared the United States. All of us – especially our children – will feel the serious immediate and long-term impact of this problem for generations to come.”

Real-time calculator

Chart of child orphan numbers in India
India has experienced high levels of orphanhood during the pandemic

Imperial’s researchers have developed a real-time COVID-19 calculator, providing ongoing updated estimates of COVID-19-associated orphanhood and death of caregivers for every country in the world.

Access the real-time COVID-19 calculator


Stephen Johns

Stephen Johns
Communications Division

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Dr Sabine L. van Elsland

Dr Sabine L. van Elsland
School of Public Health

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 3896

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COVIDWEF, Coronavirus, North-America, International, Global-health, Child-health
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