Protecting children and engaging communities key to ending Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as deaths pass 2,000
Statement attributable to Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
KINSHASA, 30 August 2019 – “Almost 600 children have now lost their lives to the Ebola outbreak in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) out of almost 850 who have caught the deadly virus since the epidemic started in August 2018. The news that the total number of deaths has now passed 2,000, out of more than 3,000 cases, should act as a rallying cry for us all to step up our efforts to defeat this terrible disease and end this outbreak.
“As the numbers continue to grow, it is vital to remember that each one of these cases is somebody’s child, a son or daughter; a mother, father, brother or sister. And each of these deaths leaves a family not only in mourning but also scared and worried about their own exposure to the disease.
“That is why supporting, engaging and raising awareness among the affected communities are key in ending this outbreak. The recent breakthrough in finding a successful treatment for this disease, and the continued effectiveness of vaccination efforts to prevent transmission and infection, mean that, for the first time, we now have the means to both prevent and treat Ebola. However, these breakthroughs mean little if individuals are too scared to seek treatment, or too slow to spot symptoms. By ensuring that the local population are informed, engaged and invested in the response, we stand the best chance of defeating the disease.
Preventing infection among children must also be central to the continued response. We know that more children, proportionately, are being affected than in any previous Ebola outbreak, and Ebola ravages children in ways that are very different from adults. What we do to treat and care for them must respond to their unique needs – physical, psychological and social. As such, UNICEF is working with partners, to meet children’s immediate and longer-term needs, accompanying them and their families every step of the way.
“The reality is that we need far more international support now. Ebola outbreaks need an exceptional level of investment compared to other disease outbreaks because they require 100 per cent of cases to be treated, and 100 per cent of contacts to be traced and managed. UNICEF requires US$126 million to meet the needs of children and communities, immediately and over the medium-term. As of yet, UNICEF has only funded 31 per cent of the appeal.”
Notes for editors:
UNICEF works with partners on three broad areas of the response to support the overarching goal of ultimately defeating Ebola and getting to zero cases.
- Risk communication and community engagement to inform, protect and engage communities. We work with a broad swathe of influential community and religious leaders, Ebola survivors, psychosocial workers, and mass media, to bring crucial knowledge on symptoms, prevention and treatment, to the households and communities most at-risk. We are learning from continuous research and analysis of community feedback to better understand local needs, fears and concerns, and to adapt the response, to one that is socially and culturally acceptable. We have made changes to the burials process; we are conducting decontamination at night; and we are responding with a lighter footprint. We will keep listening and learning.
- Infection prevention and control to help prevent further spread of the disease. We have installed handwashing units in over 2,500 health facilities, 2,300 schools and over 7,000 critical transit sites. We distribute supplies, including thermometers and chlorine to treat water. And we’ve enabled over 2.1 million people to gain access to safe water.
- Psychosocial support to assist families, particularly children affected by the disease. UNICEF and its partners have trained more than 918 psychosocial workers to assist children and families directly affected by the disease, and people who are contacts of those who have contracted the disease. We set up childcare centres next to the Ebola treatment centres in Beni and Butembo, where Ebola-survivors look after young children who have been separated from their parents due to Ebola treatment or orphaned.
- UNICEF has deployed 8 nutritionists to provide specialized care for children (and adults) in the Ebola treatment centres. This is the first time an Ebola outbreak response has included this kind of care, and there is growing recognition among responders that it plays a vital role in the overall health status of patients.
- We work in over 6,509 schools across the affected and at-risk areas to build a protective environment for children. This includes distributing health and water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, including handwashing units and laser thermometers. Some 32,250 teachers and principals, and 928,500 students have received sensitization or training on Ebola.