Nearly 8 million kids lost a parent or primary caregiver to the pandemic
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For the past two years, a group of international researchers has been keeping an eye on how the pandemic has been affecting children. The team just released its latest study, which finds that between early 2020 and May of this year, nearly 8 million children around the world have lost a parent or a primary caregiver. It's a devastating loss that obviously has serious long-term effects. Joining us now to talk about it, NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee.
RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: Tell us more about what the study found.
CHATTERJEE: So, you know, we're talking about 8 million kids the world over who are grieving for a parent or a primary grandparent caregiver who died. And the deaths could have been due to COVID-19 or other pandemic-related causes, say, not getting timely access to medical care. Now, if you think about that for a moment, that's millions of children who just in the last two years have lost the most important person or one of the most important people in their lives and important emotionally and financially. And the study also found that the worst-affected countries are in Africa and Southeast Asia, with India suffering the most with 3.5 million children grieving the loss of a parent or caregiver.
MARTIN: It's hard to absorb that number. That's - the 8 million number is globally. What about here in the U.S.?
CHATTERJEE: So the U.S. has a high number, too - more than 250,000 kids who are grieving the loss of a parent or another caregiver. But, you know, no matter what country these kids are in, losing a parent or caregiver can set up a child for a lot of difficulties.
MARTIN: So, of course, losing a parent is traumatic at any time. But we're talking about the experience of losing that parent or caregiver in the context of the pandemic. Can you talk a little bit about those difficulties?
CHATTERJEE: Yeah, so I asked kind of about the long-term impacts when I was speaking with author Susan Hillis of Oxford University, and here's what she said.
SUSAN HILLIS: It increases the risk of mental health problems, suicide, prolonged grief complications, sexual exploitation and abuse.
CHATTERJEE: And, you know, then there are just the financial and educational implications. Grief makes it harder for kids to do well at school, and many drop out or decide not to go to college so that they can support their families financially, you know, in the immediate term. But I should add that kids are also resilient. And we know that with the right supports and services, they can do well and even thrive.
MARTIN: But it's about those services, right? Some countries, I understand, are really focusing on trying to help the kids who've suffered this kind of loss.
CHATTERJEE: Yeah, they're finally getting around to doing that. So we're talking about - countries like South Africa, Eswatini, Kenya, Botswana are starting to do this work. And these are also countries who know firsthand the long-term impacts of parental death because they've seen it with the AIDS epidemic. And they also know what interventions work well. So, for example, studies show that financial support in the form of cash transfers, as well as connection to community supports, makes a big difference. And the World Bank is looking on funding such projects.
MARTIN: What about here in the U.S.?
CHATTERJEE: I haven't seen anything at the federal level, but I know lawmakers have brought up the issue a few times during congressional hearings, so I'm keeping a close eye on any efforts in the future.
MARTIN: NPR health correspondent Rhitu Chatterjee.
Thank you so much, Rhitu.
CHATTERJEE: Thank you.
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