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Thousands of children orphaned by Ebola: UNICEF

Orphaned children often face stigma and rejection

DAKAR/GENEVA/NEW YORK, 30 September 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.  

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 – now 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. 


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:

Photos and video from Ebola-affected countries can be downloaded here.

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For further information please contact:
Rukshan Ratnam, UNICEF Liberia,  +231 886 760 365
Sarah Crowe, on mission to Liberia, + 1 646 209 1590
Timothy LaRose, UNICEF Guinea,, +224 622 350 251
Issa Davies, UNICEF Sierra Leone,, +232 76 601 310
Laurent Duvillier, UNICEF Regional Office in Dakar,, +221 777 403 577
Najwa Mekki, UNICEF New York,, +1 917 209 1804




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