The hidden victims of COVID: new orphans and essential workers

Two new studies describe rates of parental loss and occupational mortality related to COVID-19, a global analysis finding that children were more likely to be orphaned if they lived in poorer countries where rates of disease not infectious diseases were high, and the other showing that essential workers in California had higher rates of coronavirus deaths and excess deaths than those with less exposure at work.

Poor countries, high rates of non-infectious diseases

In a study published yesterday in PLOS Global Public Healtha team led by researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) used an online calculator to estimate the total number of orphans per death related to COVID-19 for 139 countries from the start of the pandemic until September 28 2021.

The risk of death from COVID-19 resulting in orphaned children varied widely around the world, with the highest risk seen in countries with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita below the median (1.56 orphans per death ), compared to countries with higher GDP (0.09). African countries have been particularly affected. For example, in Angola, two children were orphaned per COVID-19-related death, compared to one orphan for every eight COVID-related deaths in Australia (0.13 orphans per COVID-19-related death).

Other factors influencing risk included a high prevalence of poverty and a high percentage of people of reproductive age (15-49) with non-infectious diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The second dose of COVID-19 vaccination was linked to a lower risk of orphanhood.

“The risk of children being orphaned by COVID-19-related death, alongside the fertility rate, is due to the fact that there is a greater share of COVID-19-related deaths among younger people,” they said. writes the researchers. “Our results underscore the need for uniform vaccination coverage across the world, which will minimize the number of deaths among all demographics, including parents, and therefore minimize the number of children who are orphaned.”

In an ANU press release, lead author and doctoral candidate Callum Lowe said some people see COVID-19 as an old person’s disease, but many children have been affected by the loss of their caregivers. .

“These are children who may have lost one or, sometimes tragically, both parents,” he said. “They were grieving in lockdowns, away from family and friends and without the routine of normal school life. This is impacting their mental health, education and long-term well-being.”

COVID-19 will have a huge effect on the next generation, Lowe said. “The research highlights the need for government resources and policy settings that ensure children affected by the death of one or both parents are appropriately supported, especially in vulnerable populations like First Nations and rural communities” , did he declare.

Highest death rate among agricultural workers

In the United States, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco conducted an analysis of COVID-19-related deaths and additional deaths among state residents aged 18 to 65 recorded by the California Department of Public Health from March 1, 2020 to November 30, 2021. .

They also modeled the estimated weekly total, per capita and relative excess deaths from natural causes from March 1, 2020 through November 30, 2021, and stratified occupational risk by COVID-19 vaccination as of August 1, 2021. results have been published. today in Lancet Public Health.

A total of 24,799 adult Californians died of COVID-19 during the study period, and there were approximately 28,751 additional deaths. Essential workers (those unable to work from home) were associated with higher rates of COVID-19 and excess deaths, ranging from 131.8 per 100,000 people in the agriculture industry to 107.1/100 000 among those working in transportation or logistics, 103.3/100,000 in manufacturing workers, 101.1/100,000 facility workers and 87.8/100,000 emergency workers.

Disparities in death rates were greater during COVID-19 surges, including the Delta wave from November 29, 2020 to February 27, 2021. During the surge from June 27 to November 27, 2021, relief workers had the rate of highest mortality from COVID-19, at 113.7 per 100,000. Essential workers in counties with the lowest vaccine coverage died at the highest rates, a disparity that became more apparent during Delta.

“This high number of deaths continued during the periods of vaccine availability and the delta surge,” the authors wrote. “In an ongoing pandemic without widespread vaccine coverage and with anticipated threats of new variants, the United States must actively adopt policies to more adequately protect workers in essential sectors.”

The researchers called for increased vaccination among essential workers, non-punitive sick leave policies, and workplace protections such as masks and adequate ventilation.

High burden on disadvantaged populations

In an editorial, the journal’s editors said the pandemic has exposed existing labor market fragilities and disparities and underscored the importance of the workplace as an overlooked target for public health.

“Workers’ experiences varied, with a disproportionate burden placed on already disadvantaged groups, overrepresented in jobs that required close physical proximity, carried a higher risk of infection and job insecurity,” they wrote. .

The editors pointed out that under-recognized workers such as family carers – mostly women – bear a disproportionate burden of unpaid work. Women are also, on average, much less well paid than men and are more often the victims of harassment and violence at work. The burdens of young caregivers also tend to be overlooked, they added.

“Work-related stress and deaths can be prevented,” they wrote. “Governments, employers, workers and policy makers should engage in meaningful dialogue to step up efforts to prevent these unacceptable losses.”

The editors urged a rethinking of the way workplaces are perceived by paying more attention to the health and well-being of workers, the provision of care policies and services, maternity leave and adequate benefits. “All workers should have the highest level of health protection and support – it is a right that should not be negotiable,” they concluded.

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