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Thousands of children orphaned by Ebola now facing stigma & rejection: UNICEF

2014-09-30

Photos and video from Ebola-affected countries can be downloaded from: http://uni.cf/1xZAb39

TORONTO, September 30, 2014 – At least 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have lost one or both parents to Ebola since the start of the outbreak in West Africa, according to preliminary UNICEF estimates, and many are being rejected by their surviving relatives for fear of infection.

“Thousands of children are living through the deaths of their mother, father or family members from Ebola,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West & Central Africa, who just returned from a two-week visit to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. “These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned. 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.”

As the death toll from Ebola continues to rise, preliminary reports from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone suggest that the number of children orphaned by Ebola has spiked in the past few weeks and is likely to double by mid-October. Ebola is also exacting a heavy emotional toll on children, especially when they or their parents have to be isolated for treatment.  

UNICEF’s response

As it accelerates its Ebola response, UNICEF is looking at traditional and new ways to help provide children with the physical and emotional healing they need: 

  • In Liberia, UNICEF is helping the government train 400 additional mental health and social workers. UNICEF is also working with local authorities in the most affected counties to help strengthen family and community support to children affected by Ebola and provide care to those who have been rejected by their communities or whose families have died.
  • Over the next 6 months, more than 2,500 Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone, –immune to the disease – will be trained in Sierra Leone to provide care and support to quarantined children in treatment centres. UNICEF is also working with partners to reunite separated children with their families through an extensive family tracing network across the country which also provides children with psychosocial support.
  • In Guinea, UNICEF and partners will provide about 60,000 vulnerable children and families in Ebola-affected communities with psychosocial support.

“Ebola is turning a basic human reaction like comforting a sick child into a potential death sentence,” said Fontaine. “The vast majority of the children affected by Ebola are still left without appropriate care. 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.”

UNICEF appealed for US$200 million to provide emergency assistance to children and families affected by the Ebola outbreak across the region, including protection activities. So far, UNICEF has only received 25 per cent of this amount. 

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How to help: www.unicef.ca

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.