Children hardest hit by Ebola outbreak, says Plan International
19 September 2014: Children are being hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, says Plan International.
The organisation says young people are not just getting infected by the deadly virus – but also being orphaned, stigmatised and discriminated against as the outbreak continues to spiral.
“Children are missing months of school as public institutions are shut down and travel is restricted. Many children are suffering from shock and trauma after witnessing deaths of their loved ones. They are in desperate need of care,” said Plan CEO Nigel Chapman.
As the disease continues to spread across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone children are losing their caregivers and being left abandoned by communities and extended families.
Some 300 children are reported to have been orphaned by the virus in Liberia, with some 309 children reportedly orphaned in neighbouring Sierra Leone, according to government sources.
Separated from parents
Koala Oumarou, Country Director for Plan Liberia, said: “An increasing number of girls and boys have become separated from their caregivers, either due to death of parents or due to abandonment by their parents whereby children are sent off to extended family outside affected areas out of fear of contamination.
“A key concern is that in the affected countries communal ownership of children has weakened or even disappeared.
“Extended families don’t want to take care of orphans of affected parents or other vulnerable children anymore out of fear of being contaminated or stigmatised in the community.
“Some foster families have been reported to have abandoned orphans after receiving the accompanying food and non-food assistance, leaving the children to fend for themselves.”
Fear, shock and trauma
Children are suffering from fear, shock and trauma as they are confined to their homes, or see corpses lying unattended on roadsides due to fear of those handling them being infected. With a lack of school and communal play to help express their worries and find comfort, experts believe psychosocial support for children will be crucial.
“They have witnessed the sudden death of their family members in extreme, though short-lived, suffering,” said Anita Queirazza, Child Protection Specialist for Plan. “They see medical personnel in masks and protective gear entering their neighbourhoods and spraying unknown liquids.
“They are not engaging in play activities, and thus have fewer opportunities to express themselves freely. In addition, children in health facilities and in those in interim care centers do not receive any form of social or psychological support. They are left alone at a time when they most need to be comforted.”
Long-lasting impacts on children
“Children are disproportionately affected in this crisis,” said Dr Unni Krishnan, Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response for Plan International.
“The secondary impacts of this crisis will have a long-lasting impact on children and it will need creative and imaginative solutions, such as, for example, using radio and television for running school – remote learning and active use of media that will help children continue to learn.”
Plan is prioritising its work with children affected by the Ebola crisis across the region. The organisation is responding in the areas of child protection, social mobilisation, and enhanced behaviour change through awareness raising activities.
Krishnan added: “Plan is working on developing programmes that allow children to continue their education from home, and addressing the psychosocial needs of children will be one of Plan’s priorities. Information provision will also be a priority.
“Ebola has hit children hard and it will leave lasting impacts. They are disproportionately affected both directly and indirectly.
“Not only are they affected directly and becoming ill, but they are also losing their parents and care-givers. We must make children, expectant mothers and nursing mothers a priority.”
Support Plan's Ebola emergency response
Ebola virus disease is a severe, often fatal illness and one of the world's most virulent diseases. The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people.
According to WHO Ebola update of 4 September, 3,685 (probable, confirmed and suspected) cases and 1,841 deaths have been reported in the current outbreak of Ebola virus disease by the Ministries of Health of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Nigeria, there have been 21 cases and 7 deaths. In Senegal, one case has been confirmed.
Plan International: Founded in 1937, Plan is one of the world’s oldest and largest children's development organisations. Plan works in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations. Plan has been working in Guinea since 1989, in Sierra Leone since 1976, and in Liberia since 1982.
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