The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has orphaned nearly 3,600 children in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the United Nations Children’s Fund said today.
By mid-January, 16,600 children were left without one or both parents or their main caregiver in the three countries worst hit by the epidemic, UNICEF said. Extended families and communities are providing care for the vast majority of the children, with only three percent of them needing to be placed outside family or community care, the agency reported.
“Since overcoming their initial fears and misconceptions about Ebola, families have been showing incredible support, providing care and protection for children whose parents have died,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement.
Children who may have been exposed to Ebola are being kept under a 21-day observation period — the maximum incubation period of the virus — and provided with support by a network of survivors. Ebola survivors are able to interact with the children during the monitoring period because they have developed a level of resistance to the virus, UNICEF said.
The agency said identifying and providing adequate care for vulnerable children has been a major challenge in the three hardest-hit countries, where child protection systems were already weak before the outbreak.
“As the Ebola-affected countries head towards recovery, we should take the opportunity to improve child protection services for all vulnerable children,” said Fontaine. “We have a chance to address other forms of vulnerability that existed before the Ebola crisis, such as child marriage, child labor, sexual violence and exploitation.”
According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, more than 9,000 people have died out of 22,525 known cases in the Ebola epidemic that began in December 2013.