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Ebola Epidemic Deeply Distressing for Children, Warns UNICEF

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 18 2014 (IPS) - Ebola will undoubtedly leave a deeply distressed generation of children, said Sarah Crowe, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Crisis Communications Chief.

Crowe, who has just returned from Liberia, described how Ebola had turned the lives of children and adults upside down.

Addressing reporters at the U.N. press briefing last week, she said children are no longer attending school and have even been banned from playing sport because it could increase the likelihood of spreading the disease.

Many children are frustrated that school has stopped, asking, “When is Ebola going to leave Liberia because I want to go back.”

School buildings are instead being used as makeshift quarantine centres showing the extreme measures needed to address the spread of the disease.

UNICEF has begun piloting radio schooling to try to help children continue their education, but it will take time to develop a curriculum and re-train teachers in this mode of teaching.

Many children are also at risk of becoming isolated from their families and communities because of the disease, said Crowe.

Some children had become separated from their parents in the “the chaos of being admitted into an ebola treatment centre,” while children whose parents had died or who themselves had survived ebola were shunned by their extended families and communities.

Crowe spoke of child-headed households including Miyata, a 15 year-old girl who was living under a tree with her brothers and sisters because they had been chased out of their village.

These children are being cared for at interim care centres by a network of survivors, who have immunity, and can provide the loving care and attention that a small child needs.

Six hundred of the children have also now been reunited orphans with their family members, showing that it is possible for aid agencies to address the stigma that is putting vulnerable members of the community at risk.

Crowe said that UNICEF was also working with survivors, “It is important to remember that nearly half do (survive).”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters Thursday the lack of funds in the United Nations Ebola trust fund was “a very serious problem.” The fund was reported this week as having fallen to 100,000 dollars.

“We need at least a 20-fold surge in assistance”, Ban told a panel on the elimination of poverty at the United Nations Friday.

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