WORLD – A new joint global study led by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the Lancet reveals that during the first 14 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 1.5 million children lost a parent, custodial grandparent, or other caregiver due to COVID-19.

The study published in a Lancet report used mortality and fertility data to model minimum estimates and rates of COVID-19-associated deaths of primary or secondary caregivers for children younger than 18 years in 21 countries.

Based on the study, an estimated 1 134 000 children experienced the death of primary caregivers, including at least one parent or custodial grandparent as 1 562 000 children experienced the death of at least one primary or secondary caregiver.

Countries in the study set with primary caregiver death rates of at least one per 1000 children included Peru (10·2 per 1000 children), South Africa (5·1), Mexico (3·5), Brazil (2·4), Colombia (2·3), Iran (1·7), the USA (1·5), Argentina (1·1), and Russia (1·0).

Lancet further published that children losing primary caregivers have higher risks of experiencing mental health problems; physical, emotional, and sexual violence; and family poverty.

These adverse experiences raise risks of suicide, adolescent pregnancy, infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, and chronic diseases.

Under a bilateral funding strategy, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) made a pledge to help support orphans and vulnerable children.

The funding will help address the growing need of mental health among children affected globally due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the COVID-19 era, children in war tone area were already experiencing mental related issues due to loss of guardians or parents during war.

Post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression was highlighted to be the most common mental disorders in the aftermath of war for children, occurring in at least one-third of children directly exposed to traumatic war experiences.

On top of the devastation and mental health crisis, these populations have had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic as well.

Since the pandemic and national lockdowns, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has documented alarming reports of increasing mental health issues among the many refugees in the Middle East and Northern Africa most of whom are children.

According to UNHCR, Libya, Yemen, and other countries in the Middle East, has witnessed a spikes in suicide, domestic violence, insomnia, and depression.

The PEPFAR alongside other stakeholders are hopeful to bolster the UNHCR efforts in implementing a number of approaches to address these mental health issues.

Among the approaches used include, utilizing and training personnel in Psychological First Aid (PFA), an evidence-based approach to intervene for individuals in the immediate aftermath of disaster and terrorism to prevent the development of PTSD.

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