According to a newly published study, approximately 5.2 million children have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 worldwide.

The study, which was published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, utilized mortality data from 21 countries hit hard by the pandemic from March 2020 to October 2021. According to the study, millions of children have lost caregivers to the novel coronavirus, and around 75 percent of those who died were men. By contrast a previous study, published in July 2021, showed that 1.5 million children lost a caregiver between March 2020 and April 2021.

The authors noted that they chose to update the study because of “the proliferation of new coronavirus variants, updated mortality data, and disparities in vaccine access increased the amount of children experiencing COVID-19-associated orphanhood.” The increase in those impacted rose by 90 percent,  and real-time data using the same model suggests the number has risen to 6.7 million as of January. Researchers called the increase a “heart-breaking hidden pandemic,” which has outpaced the total number of COVID-19 deaths according to the World Health Organization.

"We estimate that for every person reported to have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one child is left orphaned or loses a caregiver," said CDC researcher Dr. Susan Hills, per USA Today. "That is the equivalent of one child every six seconds facing a heightened risk of lifelong adversity unless given appropriate support in time. Thus, support for orphaned children must be immediately integrated into every national COVID-19 response plan."

The study concludes that health leaders worldwide need to support these children who lost a caregiver, as their risk of poverty and mental health issues is increased. Prior studies show that children of color are more often orphaned by COVID-19, as USA Today reported.