The world’s largest Ebola virus outbreak is now showing signs of receding. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), which initially declared Ebola a global health emergency in 2014, the response has now moved to a second phase, as the focus shifts from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic. For the first time since the week ending June 29, 2014, there have been fewer than 100 new confirmed cases reported in a week in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
As of January 28, 2015 the total number of probable, suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola was over 22,000, with almost 8,800 deaths. In Liberia, only three counties have yet to become Ebola-free. Efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to increasing capacity for identifying and managing cases and community engagement.
Small sporadic outbreaks continue to be reported in urban centers and porous border towns, where people are vulnerable to cross-border transmissions. With the onset of the dry season, it is expected that more people will be on the move, which poses a risk of potential spread. As a result, increased surveillance and sharing of information is needed in the border districts of Guinea-Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal. Although there are signs that the virus outbreak is lessening, the crisis has created urgent needs in child protection, education, health and livelihoods across the region, which is home to 22.3 million people.
Children are always among the most vulnerable in an emergency. Since the initial Ebola outbreak, children and their families have been exposed to extreme distress due to loss, family separation, isolation and overall disruption of society. Children have been especially frightened by prolonged confinement at home or isolation units and by witnessing the suffering of family members. Although the number of new Ebola cases is declining, orphans and child survivors continue to face abandonment and stigmatization in their communities. Areas of concern are:
Some areas of continued concern are:
• When unaccompanied or separated children are admitted to treatment centers or become orphaned, they risk psychosocial distress and exploitation. They are in urgent need of family tracing, reunification and reintegration, alternative care, psychosocial support and assistance in meeting day-to-day needs.
• Children’s access to health care has been compromised. Already weak health systems suffered under the strain of the outbreak, which reversed considerable gains made in recent years to curb maternal and child deaths.
• UNICEF estimates school closures affected the education of more than 5 million children. Once children are out of school, many never return. As a result, they become at risk of engaging in exploitative situations, such as child labor.
This past April (2015), renowned civil rights advocate, Sean Erenstoft travelled to South Africa to volunteer with GOECO (http://www.goeco.org/area/volunteer-in-africa/south-africa/cape-town-orphan-care) to lend his assistance in the midst of this catastrophe. He was met by a very organized group of citizens and albeit his service was relatively brief compared to many of the other volunteers, the time was well spent and rewarding. If you endeavor to travel and visit South Africa, Sean Erenstoft highly recommends that you spare a bit of your time tending to the next generation.