Behind the statistics are children and communities devastated by Ebola
Our Enhancing Primary Education project in Sierra Leone has been extremely affected by the current Ebola outbreak, which has been spreading throughout West Africa since early 2014. Our implementing partner Pikin-To-Pikin, have been responding to the impact of the outbreak on communities and particularly children.
Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors Without Borders (MSF) – declared the outbreak “out-of-control” in June 2014 – when over 300 people had died of Ebola and condemned the governments and international community for being too slow to put in place appropriate measures to stop the spread of the disease. MSF recently declared that Ebola has claimed at least 2,461 lives in the five affected countries – Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal.
In Kailahun district – where our project was taking place – has been quarantined since early August, with heavy restrictions on freedom of movement and gatherings, such as youth clubs and school programmes. Consequently, all schools have been closed and our project has been put on hold.
Nevertheless, our partner Pikin-To-Pikin is doing whatever it can to continue providing support to the children and communities we are working with.
Their team is working with key health agencies supporting efforts to slow down the spread of Ebola. This has involved working with the District Health Management Team and the Health Education Department at the district and national levels respectively. Pikin-To-Pikin has participated in radio programmes and has gone to villages to spread the messages about Ebola. It has also distributed hygiene and sanitation materials to chiefdoms around Kailahun, and has led Ebola-sensitisation activities at the community level.
A number of interlinked issues have combined to create an environment conduicive to the spread of ebola. These include cultural practices, such as washing the dead, which can expose people to the virus; ignorance about the means of infection; deep-rooted stigma that many sick people face as a consequence of their infection which prevents them seeking medical attention; all compounded by inadequate health care systems.
The challenge now is that with travel restrictions many people are reluctant to go to their farms or attempt to sell their products. Consequently, food is rotting whilst people don’t have enough to eat. An economic crisis is also potentially looming as most commodities prices have dramatically increased. As MSF have reported, this is no longer simply a public health issue but a fully-fledged humanitarian crisis.
The other largely ignored impact of the Ebola outbreak relates to people who are affected by other health conditions but are unable to access health care provision that was already inadequate before the outbreak began. It has been reported that children are at a greater risk of dying from malaria and measles today because some clinics have closed and some medical staff are reluctant to work. Likewise, patients with HIV/AIDS are unable to have their routine check ups nor access their drugs, as preference is given to transporting drugs that can potentially be used to treat Ebola. In many cases, they may simply be too afraid of visiting a health centre altogether.
Special needs of children are (as is often sadly the case) overlooked.
In times of emergency children are significantly more vulnerable to malaria, fever and diarrhoea-related diseases, as their immune system is weakened by the lack of food. Many children have also been orphaned as a result of which children desperately need psychosocial support and the special attention of the government and the emergency organisations.
Mr Abdulair D. Swaray, Executive Director of Pikin-To-Pikin Movement said in a press release “we believe that it is very important to support not only the obvious medical needs of these children who have been orphaned by Ebola but to find ways and means to address the emotional issues that overwhelm them”.
We thus join Pikin-To-Pikin in asking for the different actors fighting Ebola to take affected children into consideration in their response plans and address their special needs. We commend Pikin-To-Pikin’s actions towards fighting off the disease. We are very proud to call them our partners.