Nearly 4,000 children have been orphaned or lost a parent by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa – according to initial UNICEF estimates in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea – while many more are being abandoned by their surviving relatives for fear of infection.

Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West & Central Africa said:

‘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 deaths continue to rise there has been a spike in the number of children being orphaned, it is estimated that the number of children facing this situation is likely to double by the middle of October.

Children whose parents are receiving treatment take a heavy emotional toll; isolated from their parents and facing the same stigmas as those who have already lost their mothers and fathers.

UNICEF is combining traditional and modern ways of providing help and care with these children facing emotional and physical hardship.

By helping the Liberian government to train hundreds of mental health and social workers, they hope to work closely with the most affected areas to ‘strengthen family and community support’, and support children who have been rejected by their communities.

The charity Save the Children, estimate the average Liberian family to have three children, so for every single death, on average three children will have been directly affected.

An aide worker met four siblings aged eighteen, eight, six and three who were living on their own on the street, their mother having died of the virus.

The house they lived in was boarded up and the interior burned to kill off the virus, now these children have nowhere to turn.

Liberia is still struggling with rebuilding the nation after fourteen years of civil war where child soldiers were used on both sides, and many were also orphaned by the conflict.

In Sierra Leone, 2,500 Ebola survivors who are now immune from the virus will be trained to provide the care children need in quarantined treatment centres. A network will also be created to help reunite children with their families.

Working with partners in Guinea, psychosocial support will be provided for nearly 60,000 vulnerable children and families.

Manuel Fontaine continued:

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

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.’

To provide this emergency assistance, UNICEF has appealed for 200 million US dollars, so far it has only received 25 per cent.

Worryingly, the fate of many orphaned children in the war-torn areas of Sierra Leone and Liberia could get worse.
In the aftermath of the Liberian civil wars, the UN suspected Liberian orphanages to be participating in human trafficking.

United Nations reports also described the ‘chronic deplorable conditions’ faced by children in these orphanages, children were often undernourished, slept on floors and had no access to toilets.

In one case, a locked room without a mattress was kept for children who wet the bed.

Since the start of the recent Ebola outbreak, an estimated 7,470 people have been infected with the virus, resulting in 3,431 reported deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

As the virus spreads nations across the world and charity organisations are stepping up efforts to help stop the spread of this disease.

The US has authorised thousands of troops to the region and the UK has also announced the deployment of 750 military personnel, supported by a medical ship to provide treatment and medical infrastructure. Cuba has already sent hundreds of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.