Help Children Survive the Ebola Outbreak

by Save the Children Federation
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Help Children Survive the Ebola Outbreak
Help Children Survive the Ebola Outbreak
Help Children Survive the Ebola Outbreak

Over a year since the Ebola epidemic began, the outbreak has now killed more people than all previous known outbreaks of the virus combined. Across the three worst-affected countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, almost 25,000 people, including more than 3,600 children, have now been infected, and over 10,300 have died. At least 16,000 children have lost one or more of their parents to the disease, and many of these children now face being stigmatised by communities fearful of being infected.

Striking some of the weakest health systems in the world, this outbreak took hold in one of the most challenging contexts ever encountered by Save the Children. In order to deal with the crisis effectively, we had to build health infrastructure and information systems from scratch that would normally take years to develop. We have had to be extremely agile, constantly monitoring the situation and quickly revising strategies as conditions change.

Today, transmission of the virus remains widespread in Guinea, and concerns are growing about the risk of the virus spreading, now that borders have been reopened and rivers are low and more easily crossed. We remain vigilant and continue to work in partnership with national governments and other charities to increase awareness and limit the devastation caused by the epidemic.

Over 9 million children live in areas affected by Ebola, and the impact on their communities has been enormous. The three most-affected countries are all recovering from long periods of conflict and instability; the challenges these countries and their people faced were huge, even before Ebola hit. In Liberia, 73% of families have suffered a fall in their income, and an estimated 46% of the country’s workforce are now unemployed as a result of the epidemic, while 180,000 people have lost their jobs in Sierra Leone. This decline, coupled with a dramatic increase in food prices, has left families struggling to buy enough to eat. The fragile health infrastructure collapsed and schools were closed for more than six months. As a result, immunisation programs have faltered, while child labour, sexual exploitation, and teenage pregnancies have all risen dramatically.

We’ve worked in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since the 1990s, and began responding to this emergency in March 2013 conducting community awareness and hygiene promotion to limit the spread. We’re doing whatever it takes to support communities left devastated by this epidemic and we’re in this for the long haul, committed to helping these countries recover for the next three years and beyond. So far we’ve directly reached almost 870,000 people across the affected countries with our life-saving work, and significantly, we are approaching zero-transmissions in Liberia. As we begin to phase out our Ebola emergency response, we want to thank all of our donors and supporters. This wouldn’t have been possible without your support. Thank you.


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Young Girl in Ebola-Affected Sierra Leone
Young Girl in Ebola-Affected Sierra Leone

Children across Sierra Leone report that exploitation and violence against girls has increased during the year-long Ebola epidemic, resulting in rising cases of teenage pregnancies, according to a new report launched today by three leading aid agencies.

Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision International, with the support of UNICEF, recently consulted over 1,100 girls and boys aged 7 to 18 from nine districts about the impact of Ebola, which has killed more than 3,500 people in Sierra Leone.

They shared their personal experiences and deep concerns about the devastating long-term effects of the crisis on their lives as part of the Children’s Ebola Recovery Assessment report. The study was conducted to enable children to contribute their feedback and recommendations to the Government of Sierra Leone’s national Ebola recovery strategy.

The children viewed the country’s nine-month school closure as being directly linked to increases in child labour and exploitation, exposure to violence in the home and community, and teenage pregnancy.

Most of the 617 girls interviewed said they believe that higher incidences of teenage pregnancy in their communities are as a result of girls being outside the protective classroom environment, exposing them to the risk of sexual exploitation or assault. Classrooms only reopened in Sierra Leone on 14 April, after a prolonged closure to help prevent the spread of Ebola, delaying the schooling of some 1.7 million children.

Some children (10 per cent of the focus group discussion participants) reported that vulnerable girls in their communities, especially those who have lost relatives to Ebola, are being forced into transactional sex to cover their basic daily needs, including food. Children saw this as one of several factors contributing to increases in teenage pregnancy.

The fear of sexual assault was also common among the children interviewed. A large number spoke of at least one case of rape against a girl in their communities, including attacks on girls in Ebola-quarantine households. This was mainly voiced by girls aged 15-18, but younger girls shared their concerns about rape as well. Boys were also acutely aware of the risk faced by their sisters and friends.

“Some of our friends are raped when they go far to get water, some are drowned in the streams,” said a young boy from Kailahun.

Children also said they were concerned about the impact of rape on their peers, including psychological damage, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, physical harm or death, discrimination and stigma.

“This report confirms that Ebola has put an incredible strain on children’s lives and it will take time for them to recover. The impact on them has been huge,” said Casely Coleman, Country Director of Plan International in Sierra Leone.

Children participating in the assessment suggested measures to prevent teenage pregnancies, and also recommended actions to achieve zero new Ebola cases, rebuild health services, and address food, money and livelihood gaps exacerbated by the Ebola crisis. Many families lost their livelihoods during the crisis and may not be able to afford to send their children back to school.

The three aid organisations are urging the government and international donors to ensure that children’s voices are heard and their concerns addressed as Sierra Leone moves towards its Ebola recovery phase.

“Children shared with us stories of missed opportunities, exploitation, and abuse,” said Isaac Ooko, Country Director for Save the Children in Sierra Leone. “If this recovery strategy is to be successful, it’s clear that their needs must be considered. This means ensuring that every child has access to education and help to recover from a year of lost schooling.”

Nearly half the population of Sierra Leone is under the age of 18.“Our children have spoken,” said Leslie Scott, National Director of World Vision Sierra Leone. “In this report, children clearly state that education, access to healthcare and a safe environment to grow up in rank high on their list of priorities. We have heard them and now we must act.”

Participants in the Children’s Ebola Recovery Assessment recommend that the Government of Sierra Leone:

  • Take effective measures to bring Ebola to an end quickly so the recovery phase can fully begin.
  • Ensure that education is accessible for all children, including school fee subsidies and scholarships for those who have lost relatives to Ebola, especially orphans.
  • Strengthen the health system, providing additional qualified staff, especially for rural clinics that have been abandoned by personnel fearing Ebola.
  • Stop child labour and exploitation—and thereby reduce teen pregnancies—by sensitizing parents and providing livelihoods to poor families in order to protect girls from transactional sex.


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Liberia Children
Liberia Children

Save the Children congratulates Liberia on becoming Ebola-free today after 42 days of no new cases.

“I want to personally commend President Sirleaf and the people of Liberia for achieving this significant milestone,” said Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children USA. “While the battle against Ebola is not over yet, this breakthrough gives us hope that this is, indeed, a winnable fight.”

According to the World Health Organization, West Africa has reported the lowest weekly total of new cases of Ebola this year. However, it is important not to rest on our laurels until all countries in the region are declared Ebola-free.

“While I am confident that we can get to zero cases next in Guinea and Sierra Leone, we should remember that the hard part is just beginning,” Miles added. “Rebuilding these three countries, which have been decimated by this unprecedented outbreak, will require untold resources. It’s vital we keep the spotlight on West Africa for the foreseeable future.”

Save the Children remains committed to working with the governments of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to restore and improve essential health services, invest in robust health systems and outbreak detection & management, break down stigmas around Ebola survivors and orphans, and make up for lost time in schools.

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Health systems throughout the developing world need to be strengthened to prevent another Ebola-style outbreak, or worse, warns Save the Children in its new report ‘A Wake Up Call: Lessons from Ebola for the world’s health systems’.

The report ranks the world’s poorest countries on the state of their public health systems, finding that 28 have weaker defenses in place than Sierra Leone where, alongside Liberia and Guinea, the current Ebola crisis has already claimed more than 9,500 lives.

The report also advises that prevention is better than cure, finding that the international Ebola relief effort in West Africa has cost $4.3bn, whereas strengthening the health systems of those countries in the first place would have cost just $1.58bn.

Ahead of an Ebola summit attended by world leaders in Brussels today, the charity warns that alongside immediate much needed support to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, lessons need to be learned and applied to other vulnerable countries around the world.

President and CEO of Save the Children USA, Carolyn Miles, said: “A robust health system could have helped get Ebola under control much sooner, saving thousands of children’s lives and billions of dollars.

“Without trained health workers and a functioning health system in place, it’s more likely that an epidemic could spread across international borders with catastrophic effects.

“The world woke up to Ebola but now people need to wake up to the scandal of weak health systems, which not only risk new diseases spreading, but also contribute to the deaths of 17,000 children each day from preventable causes like pneumonia and malaria.”

The reports’ index looks at the numbers of health workers, government spending on health, and mortality rates. Somalia ranks lowest, and is preceded by Chad, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Haiti, Ethiopia, Central Africa Republic (CAR), Guinea, Niger, and then Mali.


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Lamine* survived Ebola; now we'll help him thrive
Lamine* survived Ebola; now we'll help him thrive

Save the Children has discharged the 60th cured Ebola patient from its Sierra Leone treatment center, as survival rates at its health facility continue to rise.

Six-year-old Lamine* was discharged back to the care of his family on Monday, four days after he was admitted to the Save the Children-run treatment facility. Lamine, whose father passed away from Ebola a week ago, tested positive for Ebola on Friday but responded well to treatment and, thanks to the care of the medical teams, quashed the disease quickly.

"Children can be particularly vulnerable to Ebola, and their condition can either improve or deteriorate very rapidly," said Save the Children's Oliver Behn. "Our teams, which include medical teams from Sierra Leone, Save the Children, Cuba and the UK, provide high quality care 24 hours a day, and are making a real difference in increasing Ebola patients' chances of survival, and ensuring more children like Lamine recover."

"The center also ensures dignity and comfort for all patients, namely those who arrive in the terminal stages of the disease," Behn continued.

Lamine* was picked up at Kerry Town by his maternal aunt and uncle on Monday, and reunited with his mother and baby brother that afternoon. On Monday and Wednesday, five other survivors, including six-year-old Aminata* who was critically ill with Ebola and malaria when she was admitted, were also discharged from the center. Six others are currently being discharged today, on Christmas eve.

These successes brought the total number of Ebola survivors at Save the Children's treatment center, so far, to 61. Each survivor receives some money to help them replace the furniture and items they may have had to destroy or have lost, a set of fresh clothes, food rations, and some hygiene items.

It remains vital that patients with symptoms consistent with Ebola be tested and, if confirmed as positive, start treatment as early as possible. The earlier this can be started, the better the chances of defeating the disease.

Mr. Behn said: "Kerry Town has the capacity to test and treat many more patients, and is working closely with the National Ebola Coordination Center and the Ministry of Health to ensure patients who need our medical care are referred as soon and as early as possible."

Survivors are accompanied home by Save the Children staff, who liaise closely with families and communities to ensure they do not face stigma upon their return and instead are given support.

*Names have been changed to protect identity and patient privacy.

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Save the Children Federation

Location: Fairfield, CT - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @savethechildren
Project Leader:
Penelope Crump
Fairfield, CT United States

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