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KINSHASA, DAKAR, NEW YORK, GENEVA, 11 December 2018 – Children now account for more than one third of the Ebola cases in affected regions of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), UNICEF said today. The UN children’s agency also reported that one in ten Ebola cases is under five-years-old, while children who contract the Ebola virus are at higher risk of dying from the disease than adults.
"We are deeply concerned by the growing number of children confirmed to have contracted Ebola,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, returning this week from Beni, one of the current epicentres of the Ebola outbreak. “The earlier children infected with Ebola receive treatment in a specialized health facility, the greater their chances of survival. Community mobilization and public awareness activities are also crucial to ensuring early detection and quick referral of suspected cases to Ebola treatment centres.”
Continued efforts are needed to raise awareness of prevention methods and promote early access to treatment which dramatically improves survival rates.
The impact of the disease on children goes beyond those who have been infected. When parents or caregivers with the disease are taken to treatment centres or pass away, some children are left on their own. UNICEF and its partners have so far identified more than 400 children who have been orphaned or left unaccompanied because of the virus. The growing number of separated children is linked to the high caseload of patients in the Ebola treatment centres of Beni and Butembo, the current epicentres of the disease.
UNICEF provides Ebola-infected children, orphans and unaccompanied children with appropriate assistance, including nutritional care and psychosocial and educational support. Together with its partners, UNICEF has opened a kindergarten next to the Ebola treatment centre of Beni to assist the youngest children whose parents are isolated in the centre. The creche has taken care of more than 20 separated infants and young children, aged up to eight years, since its opening early November.
Marie-Pierre Poirier met in Beni with national authorities, who are leading the Ebola-response, along with UN agencies and NGO partners. "Children are suffering a lot because of this epidemic – both those who have lost parents or caregivers as well as those who have been infected themselves,” said Poirier. “That’s why it’s imperative that children are put at the heart of the Ebola response.”
Since the start of the response to the latest Ebola outbreak in the DRC, UNICEF and its partners have:
- Provided psycho-social and material assistance to 520 affected families with children;
- Provided psychosocial support to 421 children in the Ebola Treatment Centers;
- Sensitized more than 91,000 children with Ebola prevention messages in schools;
- Briefed 4,310 teachers in schools on Ebola;
- Equipped 444 schools in high risk areas with hand-washing facilities;
- Reached more than 6,753,000 people with Ebola-prevention messages;
- Provided access to water to 889,440 people in the affected areas.
With more than 50 specialists in the impacted regions, UNICEF is operating out of Beni, Butembo, Mangina and Komanda.