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Helping Children Survive the Deadly Ebola Outbreak in Africa
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are battling the deadliest Ebola epidemic in recorded history. Save the Children is working urgently to halt the outbreak before it spirals further out of control.
This is the largest Ebola outbreak the world has ever seen. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a global health emergency. The Ebola virus has affected at least 4,293 and killed at least 2,296 people (WHO). But the magnitude of the outbreak is thought to be far greater as not all cases have been reported, tested or diagnosed. Unless it is brought under control the epidemic has the potential to spread more widely across the region and put many more lives at risk.
Save the Children is working in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia to help prevent the spread of the virus, by training health workers, teaching tens of thousands of people in communities about how to limit the risks to themselves and their families, distributing protective kits, and providing much needed medical equipment.
The humanitarian community must do everything in its power to give the best possible treatment to those suffering from this terrible virus, and to prevent it from continuing to spread and put further lives at risk.
What is the Ebola virus?
The Ebola virus is a severe, contagious and often deadly virus transmitted through contact with bodily fluids of infected people and animals, even after death. There is no vaccine, cure or specific treatment. However, those who receive care at an Ebola treatment centre have the best chance to survive.
What has been the impact on health systems?
The outbreak is causing death and suffering far beyond that of those directly affected by Ebola. Health systems in affected countries, already hugely under-resourced, are now close to collapse and deaths from other causes are increasing.
Many health workers and patients alike are afraid to come to health facilities. Pregnant mothers are giving birth at home rather than seeking skilled help and unaccompanied children are at risk of being ostracized from their communities at the most vulnerable time in their lives.
Health workers are taking huge risks to treat and save those who have contracted Ebola, and many working in the affected areas have already lost their lives. They also face being ostracized by those who fear they may contract and then spread the virus. With the health systems stretched beyond capacity, some families are having to treat the sick at home, further increasing the likelihood that it will spread amongst the community.
With the health systems in the affected areas under huge strain routine immunisations have stopped in some cases, and children are losing their lives in greater numbers to treatable illnesses such diarrhea and malaria. This Ebola outbreak is ultimately serving to hugely undermine progress in the health systems of the affected countries.
What has Save the Children's response been to date in the affected countries?
Save the Children's response across the region has to date focused on prevention of contraction and spread of the Ebola virus. We are working in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Our work includes:
What are Save the Children's plans to scale up its response?
Save the Children will be putting further resources into our work to prevent the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia through training health workers, communicating vital health messages and providing medical equipment.
What are the challenges to halting the spread?
When they experience the symptoms communities often turn first to untrained traditional healers or religious leaders for treatment and guidance.
Traditional burial rites often include keeping the body at home for several days, and mourners touching the deceased's head. People continue to attend funerals where infection-control measures are not implemented.
Fear, denial and stigma are attached to the highly contagious disease. Some communities have prevented authorities or humanitarian actors from entering.
Some even consider Ebola a hoax while many of those who do accept that Ebola is real believe it is fatal and so see no reason to seek healthcare when they or their families develop symptoms.
Is the Ebola outbreak in the DRC part of the same epidemic?
A small outbreak has been declared in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has so far claimed 31 lives, but it is not connected to the main epidemic and is currently considered contained.
What are the signs and symptoms of Ebola?
Not everyone infected with Ebola will have the same symptoms. The most common symptom is a high fever. Other important symptoms include weakness, fatigue, lack of appetite, and diarrhea. Some patients are also experiencing vomiting, nausea, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, hiccups, and bleeding from the eyes, ears, mouth, or anus. It is important to understand that not all Ebola patients experience hemorrhagic symptoms (bleeding).
How is a person tested for Ebola?
The only way to test for sure is with a blood test. The sample is then given to a laboratory and results are available in as little as four hours.
What is the impact of the virus on children?
Available data does not indicate that age is a factor in how likely somebody is to die from the illness. As governments close schools throughout the region, we must look at ways to ensure that children can continue to access education.
Children affected by Ebola may be stigmatized and isolated by the community and we must work to counteract this. We have already heard tragic cases where families were too scared to properly care for infected children for fear of contracting the deadly disease.
Orphaned children are at risk of being ostracized from their communities at the most vulnerable time in their lives.
The secondary effects of the virus on children will also be significant. Schools are closing meaning children are missing critical months of education, whilst health systems are breaking down resulting in increased numbers or fatalities from preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea or malaria.
Children who have witnessed the death or illness of a relative will have experienced severe stress and be in need of emotional support.