The Ebola outbreak continues to rage in West Africa, now with more than 21,500 infected and over 8,500 dead. These numbers are grim but they don't include the thousands of children who have been orphaned due to the outbreak, presenting another problem that affected countries in West Africa have to deal with.
Over 10,000 are believed to be orphaned because of the Ebola outbreak, with majority of cases reported in Sierra Leone where the virus took its toll the most. Many of these children were infected themselves by the virus but were not able to seek refuge in their communities after getting better because they were shunned. Even families are casting out their own children for fear of contracting the virus.
"Thousands of children are living through the deaths of their mother, father or family members from Ebola. These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned," said Manuel Fontaine, West and Central Africa regional director for UNICEF.
In an effort to provide orphaned children with emotional and physical healing, UNICEF is turning to traditional and novel means. In Liberia, for instance, the organization is aiding the government in training 400 additional social and mental health workers while working with local counties to bolster community and family support.
In Sierra Leone, over 2,500 Ebola survivors who have developed immunity to the disease are scheduled to be trained so they can help care and support children quarantined in treatment centers. Children separated from their families are also being reunited through an extensive family tracing network in the country.
For those in Guinea, UNICEF is working on providing psychosocial support to around 60,000 children and their families in communities affected by Ebola in the country.
Fontaine added that Ebola has managed to turn a basic human reaction like caring for a sick child into something synonymous to a death sentence. Majority of the children affected by the outbreak remain to be uncared for and it's difficult to respond to a crisis of this magnitude using the usual means.
"We need more courage, more creativity and far far more resources," he reiterated.
In September 2014, the UNICEF appealed to the world for $200 million, which will be used for providing emergency assistance to affected children and their families, including protective activities. The organization has a presence in 190 countries but is focusing efforts in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the Ebola outbreak.