A girl poses for a photo in the living room at her orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct. 10, 2021. Researchers estimate that 5.2 million children have been orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the number of orphaned children jumped 90% during delta variant surge. (CNS photo/Jorge Silva, Reuters)

CLEVELAND (CNS) — An estimated 5.2 million children in 21 countries, including the United States, lost at least one parent, a custodial grandparent or a primary caregiver to COVID-19 during the first 20 months of the pandemic, social researchers and child well-being advocates said in a new study.

Notably, the researchers estimated that the number of children orphaned because of the pandemic nearly doubled during the six-month period ending Oct. 31, 2021, a period corresponding largely with the surge in the delta variant of the coronavirus.

The total number of orphaned children during the study period parallels the roughly 5 million COVID-19-caused deaths during the same time frame, the study said.

“This finding means that, globally, for every one reported COVID-19 death, at least one child experienced orphanhood or caregiver death,” the researchers concluded.

The study was published online Feb. 24 by the British medical journal The Lancet.

The study defined orphanhood as the death of one or both parents, one or both custodial grandparents, or a primary caregiver.

Catholic Relief Services representatives described the estimates as “eye-opening” and agreed with the researchers’ conclusion that “an evidence-based emergency response is becoming increasingly urgent” to meet the challenges faced by children pushed into orphanhood by the pandemic.

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