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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Staying safe in Ebola quarantine without Mum or Dad

By Indrias G. Kassaye

For a village in Sierra Leone, the tight restrictions of Ebola quarantine bring the movements of everyday life to a stop. For children on their own, providing safety and care is especially challenging.

TONKOLILI DISTRICT, Sierra Leone, 27 August 2015 – When 16-year-old Emma Kamara’s mother left home for a long trading trip upcountry, she had no idea that her three children, left in the care of neighbours, would soon be under lockdown.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2015/Kassaye
An ambulance takes Emma Kamara and her brothers to the nearby Observation Interim Care Centre, Massesebe Village, Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone. The children have been living on their own, in their home.

“Sometimes she stays away for a month. She doesn’t know we have been placed under quarantine,” says Emma. Her mum travelled on a Tuesday, and on the Friday Massesebe village was put under quarantine after a surprise new case of Ebola in their district of Tonkolili, in Sierra Leone.

Most people in the village, as across much of the country, work as farmers. The villagers often supplement their incomes through work in the mining areas in the northern part of the district. The mining industry – including diamonds, gold, iron and rutile – is the country’s biggest source of export earnings.

Emma’s mum is particularly vulnerable, because as a single-mother without access to land, she depends entirely on the cash she earns on these trading trips.

The latest Ebola case in Tonkolili district, where Massesebe village is located, was the first in 150 days, and it came from migration of a different sort – a sick man travelled back to the village from an Ebola hot spot in Freetown.

Cut off from the world

After the man’s death from Ebola, the whole village, including the Kamara children, was put under quarantine: Orange plastic quarantine barriers cordoned off the roadside homes from the rest of the world, and it would be 21 days, the maximum incubation period of the Ebola virus, until those residing inside their homes would walk out freely again.

Quarantining an entire village is not easy, because it shuts down the mobility that people depend on to meet their basic needs, like tending to farmland, collecting water, going to school, visiting the hospital, and trading. The Government, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and a number of NGOs, rallied to make sure everyone had water, food, hygiene and sanitation facilities and supplies. For the children, toys, games and radios helped provide activity and school radio programmes.

But such conditions are less than ideal for children without a caregiver in the home.

“When we were assessing the situation of children in the quarantined village, we found Emma and her two brothers living alone,” says Amie Tholley, UNICEF Child Protection Officer. “These children are without a caregiver – no one to make sure they are following proper hygiene and sanitation measures, and no one to make sure they are safe, which can be particularly difficult for an adolescent girl. The best place for them is at the Observation Interim Care Centre [OICC]. Meanwhile, we will try to get word to their mother.”

Care and protection

Operated by the NGO Child Fund, with support from UNICEF, the OICC in neighbouring Magburka provides temporary care and protection for high-risk, asymptomatic children without a caregiver. Trained Ebola survivors, who are now resistant to the virus, care for the children, providing counselling and support, keeping them entertained with books, games, toys and films while monitoring for any signs of the virus. If symptoms become manifest, the children will be referred to a treatment centre for diagnosis.

The staff welcome and register the children, and after bathing and changing into new clothes, it isn’t long before they are comfortable in their new surroundings.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2015/Kassaye
Emma Kamara and one of her brothers are shown here at the UNICEF-supported Magbruka Observation Interim Care Centre for children without caregivers, where they will be under observation for Ebola.

“We are all fine here,” says Emma. “My brothers are okay. We are enjoying playing games and watching films. We watched ‘Famous Kids’ this morning. We are also eating lots of food. I don’t miss the quarantine at all – we are happy to be here.”

Meanwhile, the search is on for Emma’s mother to inform her where her children are. She might not have even heard about the quarantine.

Transition home

When the 21-days end, Emma and her brothers return home with a care package, including clothes, sheets, mattresses, household items and other supplies to ease the transition from quarantine.

Their mother had sent word through their uncle, who will visit them regularly to make sure they are doing well.

The last Ebola patient in Sierra Leone, also from the village of Massesebe, was discharged on 24 August, and without further cases, the country will be declared free from Ebola transmission 42 days later.

As of 26 August, there have been 8,697 confirmed cases of Ebola, with 3,586 confirmed deaths from the virus in Sierra Leone.

UNICEF works in partnership with a large number of partners, including WHO, the UK Department for International Development, the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance,  the Government of Japan, Irish AID, and National Committees for UNICEF, to respond to the Ebola outbreak, including the recovery phase. UNICEF’s current US$178 million appeal to respond to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone through end of July remains underfunded, with $122.6 million received to date, leaving a funding gap of $55.2 million.



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