After three weeks in quarantine, Joshua, 6, and Moses, 13, are released from a health centre in Dolo’s Town, north-central Liberia. Although their parents recently died of Ebola, the orphans are healthy. But they have nowhere to go.

wpid-Ebola20Rivers20Investigates20Death20of20ECOWAS20Worker.jpgFamily members, friends and neighbours refuse to take care of the brothers due to the stigma attached to the deadly virus. Fear of being infected is stronger than any social bond after the epidemic killed more than 2,400 people in West Africa.

Before Joshua and Moses were found in their home by a health worker, they had been abandoned for a whole week. “All other residents in the house left, ran away” after the boys’ parents died, the health workers says.

Although there are no statistics available yet, thousands of West African children have been orphaned by Ebola since the first case was detected in Guinea in December, estimates United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef.

In addition to the trauma of losing a parent, they are ostracized because they are seen as a source of infection, bad luck and trouble, according to the organization.

The current outbreak is caused by the most lethal strain in the family of Ebola viruses and has a fatality rate of 90 per cent.

Many orphans have to fend for survival on the streets, without shelter, health care and nutrition. In Liberia, every fifth orphan is below the age of 2 and particularly vulnerable to the consequences of neglect, warns Unicef Liberia representative Sheldon Yett.

“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,” says Yett. “Now Ebola is threatening to wipe out all those hard-earned gains.”

The epidemic has led to “a gross violation of children’s rights,” according to Henry Bunch Garneo, chair of advocacy group National Children and Youth Advisory Board in the capital, Monrovia.

In one instance, a child died of starvation because nobody wanted to go near it after her parents died of Ebola, Garneo tells local newspaper Liberian Observer. Every day, there were new cases of child neglect, he says.

After Liberia’s information minister Lewis Brown appealed to citizens help “rather than abandon such children,” Lofa Country senator Sumo Kupee rose to the challenge and adopted an Ebola orphan. But examples such as these are few and far between.

In neighbouring Sierra Leone, too, “orphaned children are ? being ostracized from their communities at the most vulnerable time in their lives,” says Rob MacGillivray, regional humanitarian director of non-profit organsation Save the Children.

Local child welfare organization Pikin-to-Pikin Movement takes care of hundreds of Ebola orphans between the ages of 0 and 16 in half-way houses across the country.

Every week, between 10 and 15 new orphans arrive at their doors, says the organization’s programme manager Sheku Tarawalie.

“They are treated like enemies. There is no more friendship. Nobody wants to play with them. Nobody wants to give them food to eat. They have to fend for themselves,” explains Tarawalie.

Yet, these children would need special medical and psychological care when being quarantined or hospitalized, says Tarawalie. Many of them have cared for sick family members and watched them die.

There are hardly any resources for anything other than emergency care in the three countries hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. West Africa’s weak health services have been strained, with more than 4,700 people infected with the deadly haemorrhagic fever virus.

Only very few children are as lucky as 21-month-old Issata, one of Sierra Leone’s youngest Ebola survivors. After the little girl’s parents died of the virus, she was adopted by Jaminatu, a volunteer in a treatment centre in the eastern town of Kailahun where Issata was quarantined.

“We’ll manage,” the single mother-of-two optimistically told Unicef staff members. Perhaps, Issata will become a doctor one day, because she is strong and survived Ebola, Jaminatu says.



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