Back to blog

The Hidden Pandemic of Orphanhood

I got to see my mother this week. I was delighted as I had not seen her for more than 18 months due to Covid-19 restrictions. This is just one small example of how the pandemic has impacted the way we live our lives. Where we work, how we travel, when, where and how we interact with others. These impacts have been challenging. These impacts have been obvious.

What has been less obvious is the impact on the more than 1.5 million children (aged under 18) who have lost a parent or grandparent caregiver due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A Lancet study published in July 2021 calls this staggering loss The Hidden Pandemic of Orphanhood

Dr Seth Flaxman, one of the Lancet study’s lead authors, from Imperial College London, said:

“The hidden pandemic of orphanhood is a global emergency, and we can ill afford to wait until tomorrow to act. Out-of-control Covid-19 epidemics abruptly and permanently alter the lives of the children who are left behind.”

The study’s authors looked at previous pandemics including the HIV/AIDs and Ebola epidemics to see if there were lessons to be learned in how best to give the support and care that children orphaned by the Covid-19 pandemic will need for many years to come.

They found that:

“despite the comprehensive literature on the harms and negative outcomes associated with residential care such as orphanages and children’s institutions, such provisions mushroomed rather than diminished in some countries affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

So what do they recommend instead?

Safe and loving family-based care.

The HIV and Ebola epidemics have shown how to help bereaved children, said co-author Prof Lucie Cluver, from Oxford University and the University of Cape Town.

“We need to support extended families or foster families to care for children, with cost-effective economic strengthening, parenting programs, and school access. We need to vaccinate caregivers of children – especially grandparent caregivers. And we need to respond fast because every 12 seconds a child loses their caregiver to Covid-19.”

To make this a reality will require sustained commitment and action.

Can we do better this time with the benefit of hindsight? Will we do what we can to make safe and loving family-based care a reality for children orphaned by Covid-19?

You can access a report on the findings of the Lancet Study “Children The Hidden Pandemic 2021” HERE.

To find out more about the global movement to keep vulnerable and orphaned children in safe and loving family based care, visit HERE or join our new email learning journey ‘Rethinking how we care’ below.


Sign Up for 'Rethinking How We Care' Here


Photo Credit: Rene Bernal