Thousands of Ebola orphans abandoned as adults fear infection

"Ebola is turning a basic human reaction like comforting a sick child into a potential death sentence"

Published September 30, 2014 6:32PM (EDT)


At least 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have lost one or both parents in the Ebola outbreak and, horrifically, are now being shunned. UNICEF officials report that care takers are desperately needed for these abandoned children, but many fear for their safety and do not want to come into contact with potentially infected kids.

"Thousands of children are living through the deaths of their mother, father or family members from Ebola," said UNICEF's Regional Director for West and Central Africa Manuel Fontaine in a statement. "These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned."

The BBC reported on UNICEF's findings:

"Orphans are usually taken in by a member of the extended family, but in some communities, the fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties."

The number of Ebola orphans has spiked in the past few weeks and preliminary reports suggest that it is likely to double by mid-October, UNICEF said.

There was an urgent need to establish a system for identifying and caring for Ebola orphans, it said.

UNICEF will be holding a meeting on the issue in Sierra Leone next month but before then it wants potential carers to come forward."

While the situation has been compared to efforts at housing children during wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia during the 1990s, the threat of infection makes those methods impossible. "You cannot just set up a center and put 400 children in it like we used to do. It is much more complicated than that," said Andrew Brooks, the agency's regional head of child protection.

Over the next six months, UNICEF hopes to train 2,500 Ebola survivors to take care of the orphans. These adults have already faced the stigma attached to the disease and are not threatened by potential infection.

"Ebola is turning a basic human reaction like comforting a sick child into a potential death sentence," said Fontaine. "We cannot respond to a crisis of this nature and this scale in the usual ways. We need more courage, more creativity, and far far more resources."

By Joanna Rothkopf

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Children Ebola Orphans Unicef West Africa