Research will improve how children affected by orphanhood receive the support they need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives now and into adulthood.
Imperial College London researchers are partnering with the Moderna Charitable Foundation to improve the lives of children. The COVID-19 pandemic, which led 10.6 million children to experience the sudden loss of a caregiver, emphasised the need to find more effective ways to support these children.
Currently, public health data cannot easily identify children experiencing orphanhood. This study will look at whether detailing child dependents on the death certificates of parents or caregivers can help ensure swift action and interventions so that bereaved children and their families receive the support they need.
We hope to demonstrate for the nation and for the world, that there are collaborative solutions for one of the biggest humanitarian challenges of our time. Dr Oliver Ratmann
It follows on from a letter published in Science on 5 May 2023 which makes the scientific case to list the number of children under the age of 18 living in the home of the deceased on death certificates.
The research will be piloted in Sincelejo and other communities in Northern Colombia, in a collaboration between researchers at Imperial College London, the Global Reference Group on Children Affected by COVID-19 and Crisis, the World Bank mission in Colombia, the University of Sucre and the University of the Andes in Colombia.
Principal investigator Dr Oliver Ratmann, from the Department of Mathematics at Imperial, said: “This study aims to provide evidence that children who experience the loss of Mum, Dad or other caregivers can be promptly and routinely linked to the support they need, through a simple modification of death certificates.
“Imperial, in collaboration with all project partners and support from the Moderna Charitable Foundation, will advance the understanding of the consequences of orphanhood on children in crisis, and link bereaved children to local evidence-based solutions. We hope to demonstrate for the nation and for the world, that there are collaborative solutions for one of the biggest humanitarian challenges of our time.”
Parenting in a crisis
The work will enable the researchers to help shape and scale up evidence-based interventions to reach and help these children through Colombia’s National Action Plan for Ending Violence against Children and Youth.
This includes offering and evaluating a six-session parenting support program for surviving caregivers, which grew out of Parenting in Crisis resources created to build resilience for parents and caregivers in crisis during the pandemic. These are available via online, print media, and for use by health workers such as case managers or nurses, and have been disseminated to over 210 million people and translated into over 100 languages.
This project can serve as a blueprint for families, communities, and local leaders to support the needs of children in compromised circumstances due to unforeseen crisis. Professor Pedro José Blanco Tuirán
Professor Pedro José Blanco Tuirán (University of Sucre) will lead and organize the local outreach work, in tandem with Dr Arturo Harker (University of the Andes) who is an expert in providing and evaluating additional care components based on the UNICEF-WHO Parenting for Lifelong Health programs.
Professor Tuirán said: “This project is of great importance to the region, especially in a critical segment of the population with many unmet basic needs. The COVID-19 pandemic left many children orphaned, not just in Colombia, but globally. This project can serve as a blueprint for families, communities, and local leaders to support the needs of children in compromised circumstances due to unforeseen crisis.”
Dr Andrés Villaveces, from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said: “Findings from this study will have applications for implementing interventions recommended by the Colombia National Action Plan to prevent violence against children and youth.”
The impact of COVID-linked orphanhood on children is exacerbated by co-occurring crises in many parts of the world, including conflict and climate disasters. All three types of crisis – contagion, conflict and climate – have similar immediate and long-term adverse impacts on children and families.
These consequences are pervasive and enduring, and include acute mental health and suicide risks, abuse and neglect, school drop-out, HIV and other infectious diseases, and life-long chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer.
Dr Susan Hillis, the Co-Chair of the Global Reference Group on Children Affected by COVID-19 and Crisis said: “The good news is that three decades of research on HIV-linked orphanhood can be used to inform effective approaches to building recovery and resilience in children affected by pandemic-linked orphanhood. With timely help now, these children can recover and become resilient young adults who contribute to the wellbeing of their families and communities.”
The Moderna Charitable Foundation was launched in 2022, with a particular focus on local and global communities impacted by the pandemic, supporting scientific education and innovation, public health and access to healthcare, and pushing for inclusion and diversity.
The Global Reference Group on Children Affected by COVID-19 and Crisis is hosted by and linked to the World Health Organisation to develop up to date evidence of numbers of children affected by orphanhood, and to support policy and programming that can mitigate the impacts of orphanhood on children and adolescents.
It is Co-Chaired by Dr Susan Hillis and includes Dr Oliver Ratmann (Imperial College London); Prof Lucie Cluver, Dr Seth Flaxman, Prof Christl Donnelly (Oxford University); Dr Juliette Unwin (University of Bristol); Dr Samir Bhatt (University of Copenhagen, Imperial College London); Dr Chris Desmond (University of Kwa-Zulu Natal); Dr Alexander Butchart (World Health Organization); Severine Chevrel (U.S. Agency for International Development); Dr Andrés Villaveces (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); Prof Lorraine Sherr (University College London); Prof Charles Nelson III (Harvard University Medical School); Dr Laura Rawlings (World Bank); Dr Philip Goldman (Maestral International); and Phil Green (World Without Orphans).
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
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