AS we have witnessed, the current wave of Covid-19 infection is affecting younger people with hardly any comorbidities and more of them are in categories four (requiring oxygen) or five (needing ventilatory support). In the first two waves, the elderly were more affected.
With the demise of younger patients who have young children, the situation of increasing “Covid-19 orphans” (children of deceased Covid-19 positive parents) will have to be tackled. This number is increasing rapidly with the number of ventilated younger patients and deaths.
A comprehensive plan to take care of these children has to be devised to see them through their bereavement, arrange for carers or foster families, and ensure they continue to have proper education and love. The Women, Family & Community Development Ministry and the Welfare Department have to be in the forefront in this and be proactive in tackling the issue without any fanfare.
An initial list of all Covid-19 orphans has to be made, counsellors need to be deployed to work with these children to guide them through their bereavement, next of kin or appropriate carers need to be found, and there has to be proper follow-up to ensure these children are not abused or neglected. The government has to set aside funds to care for these orphans’ education and other needs, at least until they reach 18 years of age.
The sooner the Health Ministry and individual hospital managements liaise with the Women, Family & Community Development Ministry and the Welfare Department, the easier it will be to tackle the situation while numbers are still manageable.
The outcome that we want to see with these children is that they get through their bereavement with proper counselling, have a stable home to grow up in, continue with their education and achieve their full potential as if their parents were still around, and be able to become well-adjusted adults contributing to society. What we need to avoid after a traumatic loss is children becoming involved in crime or drugs and becoming vulnerable to adult predators, leading to abuse and neglect.
These Covid-19 orphans will need to be guided and followed up on until they become adults. Society owes it to them to guide them and we have the relevant ministries and experts to help. They have to be proactive rather than reactive and start the process early.
DATUK DR ZULKIFLI ISMAIL
Paediatrician & Chairman, Positive Parenting Malaysia