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As efforts to halt the spread of the Ebola virus intensify, UNICEF warns of its far-reaching impact on children. In Liberia, Ebola has severely disrupted health services for children, caused schools to close and left thousands of children without a parent. Children are dying from measles and other vaccine preventable diseases and pregnant women have few places to deliver their babies safely.
“Over the past decade, Liberia has moved from a country mired in devastating conflict to a country celebrating the highest rate of decline in child mortality in Africa,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s Representative in Liberia. “Now Ebola is threatening to wipe out all those hard-earned gains for children and for Liberia.”
Almost all health facilities are closed or only partially functional. Children are not receiving protective vaccinations or being treated for the common childhood illnesses that account for the majority of deaths in children under 5 years of age – including malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, and severe acute malnutrition.
To date UNICEF, with support from the World Bank, has flown to Liberia nearly 248 metric tonnes of supplies which include personal protection equipment, hygiene kits, chlorine – the biggest ever delivery of chlorine in UNICEF’s history – plastic sheeting, oral rehydration salts for the treatment of diarrhoea and other emergency health supplies.
In the past week, UNICEF, together with Liberian partners, distributed 9,000 hygiene kits to 45,000 people in West Point, an impoverished, densely populated community in Monrovia that has been heavily impacted by the Ebola outbreak, and that is also prone to high rates of acute watery diarrheal diseases. Each kit includes two-10 litre buckets, water purification tablets and soap.
A vital element to the control of this highly infectious disease is prevention. UNICEF provides water and sanitation to treatment centres and social mobilisers fan out in towns and villages promoting better hygiene practices several times a week helping. UNICEF trains up psycho-social workers and is working to restore essential maternal and child health services, including for children suffering from malnutrition.
“Among the true heroes in this country are Liberian health workers who serve on the front lines of this battle,” Yett said. Liberia has one of the lowest per capita number of health professionals. Yet, approximately 15 per cent of those who have contracted the disease are health workers, a devastating loss for the country and the children and families they serve.”
Children whose family members have died of Ebola face stigma and rejection, as they are seen in their communities as a source of infection, bad luck and trouble. Many are on their own, roaming the streets without parental care, proper shelter, health care and nutrition. Some 20 percent are below the age of two and particularly vulnerable to the consequences of neglect.
UNICEF has also brought on board mental health specialists for psychosocial support to all patients in Ebola Treatment Units and holding centers, as well as to their families. UNICEF is supporting safe homes for children in isolation for child “contacts” who are in 21-day isolation and have no one to care for them; and half-way homes for children without parental care for child survivors and “non-contacts” who were orphaned by Ebola and have no parental care.
As primary and secondary schools remain closed, affecting over 1.5 million, UNICEF is working with Liberian education authorities and other partners to ensure children can continue their formal education even when they are not physically attending school.
Notes to editors:
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UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation for children, working in over 190 countries to help every child realise their full potential. We work with partners to transform the lives of children everywhere. UNICEF provides health care, water, nutrition, education and protection for children. The most vulnerable and disadvantaged children are our priority. As champion of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we work to protect and promote the rights of every child. UNICEF UK raises funds for UNICEF’s emergency and development work and advocates for lasting change for children everywhere. We are a UK registered charity, supported entirely by voluntary donations. We do not receive any money from the UN. For more information, please visit www.unicef.org.uk