On The Road Blog
Ebola: Exacerbating Children’s Vulnerability in West Africa
- By Emmanuel Otoo on September 23rd, 2014
- Category: Blog, Featured, Featured Blog, Home, Sub-Saharan Africa
The World Health Organization reported yesterday that over 2,800 people have now died from the deadly Ebola outbreak in parts of West Africa. This is the world’s worst outbreak of the disease, which has a fatality rate of between 50 and 90 percent, and if no immediate solution is found to stop the spread, experts believe that more than 20,000 people could be infected by early November, and many would die.
Many of the affected and those killed by the epidemic are children. The World Health Organization warned that the numbers of new Ebola cases “may be approaching an exponential growth rate and could be doubling every three weeks.”
The Global Fund for Children (GFC) works in parts of West Africa where a lot of people have been affected by and infected with the Ebola virus. We at GFC have been concerned about the outbreak and have been in close contact with our current and former grantee partners to learn more, monitor the situation, and provide support to our partners as they continue to give hope to children and families in affected communities.
To ensure that our partners have what they need to respond, GFC is opening its emergency fund to support grantee partners affected by the Ebola crisis. We believe the grassroots organizations we support are uniquely positioned to reach children and families that are extremely vulnerable and marginalized—and that may be missed by larger aid organizations.
Our partners operate in communities that were already vulnerable before the crisis began, and in addition to presenting fatal health risks, the spreading virus has exacerbated existing challenges for the children, families, and communities we support.
One of our grantee partners told us how an 8-year-old girl who had lost her mother to the virus a couple of months before and whose father was being treated in an isolation ward was found very weak, crying out in excruciating pain and clutching her tummy. Unfortunately, she died a few hours after she was offered a bed at the isolation ward at the treatment center.
This is the situation of a number of children in the Ebola-affected countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia, two countries that are also struggling to recover from years of war. Our grantee partners in these countries have shared with us an on-the-ground view of how the epidemic is affecting already traumatized, poor, and vulnerable children and their families.
Most of these children are out of school, live in the slums with an unemployed single parent, or are street-based, neglected, or victims of sexual or gender-based violence. Our grantees told us that even more children have been made orphans, are being neglected, or have been abandoned, and more children are now on the streets because they have lost their parents, guardians, or all members of their families to Ebola. In addition, the epidemic has created fear and a sense of hopelessness in most families and communities.
Our partners also reported on the efforts of their national governments and the international community to address the situation and how the governments have also requested the support of civil society organizations and community-based organizations in creating awareness, putting in place preventive measures, and implementing practical interventions to help contain and eradicate this deadly virus.
All GFC partners in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been forced to temporarily discontinue most of their programs, as the national governments have banned large gatherings and have shut down the schools in order to prevent further spread of the virus. However, GFC’s partners continue to engage with the children they support and the children’s families and have refocused to implement different short-term and medium-term interventions to help children and families stay free of the virus.
One such organization is Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness (THINK), which operates a safe house for young survivors of gender-based violence in Monrovia, Liberia. THINK is working closely with key government agencies to educate people about the virus and about how they can protect themselves and their families. The organization is also working with other civil servants to identify street-based children who are orphaned by the Ebola epidemic in order to provide them with transitional shelter and psychosocial support.
In addition, the THINK staff have received training from the Ministry of Health on how to craft awareness-raising and educational messages on Ebola and how to advise families on keeping free of the virus. The outreach team of THINK has visited more than 30 rural towns and has reached out to multiple urban communities, going house-to-house to create and deepen awareness. THINK also launched a youth-led Ebola prevention awareness campaign in Monrovia last week. Under THINK’s supervision, 150 trained youth will disseminate prevention information to their communities.
Another GFC grantee partner, Children Assistance Program (CAP), works to build the capacity of vulnerable children and youth to become active members of their communities through comprehensive educational, healthcare, and economic empowerment services. CAP has temporarily closed its early childhood development school and its youth center for adolescents in Monrovia due to the outbreak and in compliance with government directives.
However, its human rights program in Grand Gedeh County is ongoing, and the organization has redirected its activities toward Ebola awareness campaigns, family support, and provision of psychosocial support for affected children and families. The organization has also supported the children and families it serves with supplies such as hand-washing soaps, disinfectants, and hand sanitizers to help them prevent infection.
A former GFC grantee partner, Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP), also located in Monrovia, has shifted the focus of its human rights programs to focus on aggressive hygiene outreach and Ebola prevention interventions. RHRAP continues to organize family-to-family education campaigns to help people understand, in simple terms, the major dos and don’ts to keep them free of the Ebola virus.
In addition to providing public education and psychosocial support, Precious Gems Rescue Mission (PGRM), a GFC grantee partner in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is working with volunteers to identify children who have lost their parents and guardians through Ebola and to assist with placing these children in a safe environment. This entails a lot of effort, as the children have to be screened for Ebola in addition to all the other medical screens that would routinely be done.
A grassroots organization that provides education to street children, PGRM is also concerned about additional risks for vulnerable children, beyond the immediate threat of infection. The director of PGRM, Marion Graham, stated that “children are now more susceptible to forced labor and sexual exploitation, due to the long absence from school and loss of their parents and guardians.” She added that with support from GFC, her organization will work with other stakeholders to support these children. PGRM reported that three children who attend its community school have lost family members to the virus.
All of these organizations are working very hard in collaboration with other local networks, community leaders, and families to deepen awareness educate communities about preventive measures, and console affected families and children. They are also providing hope to those who have lost hope, assisting with psychosocial care, and providing basic supplies to help children and families stay Ebola-free.
GFC and its grantee partners are committed to standing with the children and families in affected countries as they go through this difficult time. We will lead by following our current and former grantee partners, continuing to monitor the situation, and working closely with our partners to support their efforts to implement culturally appropriate interventions. We are also in close contact with our partners in other parts of West Africa and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as they monitor the situation in their countries.
We are currently working with our partners to determine children’s needs in the affected communities, and to provide emergency support as soon as possible to help keep children safe through the fight against this deadly epidemic. GFC has a strong track record of assisting vulnerable children in the immediate wake of disasters both large and small and of providing long-term support as communities work to recover.
To help GFC and its partners protect children from this deadly disease, and to contribute to the long-term recovery of these vulnerable communities, please donate today.