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Children hardest hit

© UNICEF/NYHQ2014-1522/La Rose
A social mobilizer teaches children about proper hand-washing in Conakry.

Over 9.4 million children are living in the affected areas of West Africa. 

Beyond children who have been infected with Ebola, a far greater number of children have lost one or both parents or caregivers in this crisis. 

Even through the crisis, some children are being reunited with their families and loved ones. View a photo essay about them.

Ebola through the eyes of children

Children account for around one fifth of all confirmed cases of Ebola to date. But perhaps even more important than the direct impact on children is the indirect one. Of course, the Ebola epidemic has been terrifying for everyone but picture, for a moment, the world from the perspective of a child – one of the millions – in the three most affected countries.

Children without parents due to Ebola

  • More than 16,000 children lost parents or caregivers to Ebola
    DAKAR, Senegal/GENEVA/NEW YORK, 6 February 2015 – Some 16,600 children are registered as having lost one or both parents, or their primary caregivers to Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but less than 3 per cent have had to be placed outside family or community care, UNICEF said today. “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,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “This shows the strength of kinship ties and the extraordinary resilience of communities at a time of great hardship.”
  • 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.”

Children without parents in Guinea

The village of Meliandou in Guéckédou, where the recent Ebola outbreak is believed to have started, is probably one of the most difficult places to reach in the country. It is a two-day drive from the capital of Conakry, followed by a long walk through a dense rainforest.

Along with child protection officers and partners, I recently went to Meliandou, to understand how Ebola was affecting children. What we found confirmed our suspicions—based on what the people we spoke to said, there would be hundreds, if not thousands of children who have lost a parent, grandparent, brothers and sisters or have been made orphans by this deadly disease.

In small rural villages, children without parents are vulnerable to stigmatization, hunger, malnutrition, and in some cases violence. Some of these children are also survivors of Ebola themselves. Read more about children in Guinea and Ebola

Looking after children in Sierra Leone's Eastern Province

As of October 2014, over 300 children across Sierra Leone have been orphaned by the Ebola virus, and this number is likely to rise considerably as the virus continues to spread.

The highly infectious nature of Ebola coupled with crowded living conditions, has meant that in one brutal swipe, entire families are becoming infected.

Popping his head out from behind the front door is Francis, a 13-year-old boy who welcomes me into a sparsely furnished home on the fringes of Kailahun town.  In the case of Francis, his two younger sisters Rose (5) and Alice (3) entered the MSF run Ebola treatment hospital in Kailahun after their mother, father – and later grandmother – became sick. Read more about children in Sierra Leone

Related stories

In Nigeria, battling the stigma of Ebola
As the West African Ebola outbreak continues to spread, its impact on families and communities is becoming more pronounced. UNICEF announced that 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, and many of them are being rejected by their surviving relatives for fear of infection. In Nigeria, Ebola survivors and those who have come in contact with infected persons, as well as their families, find that being declared free of the disease is just a first step. They still need to cope with stigmatization.




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