© UNICEF/UNI182835/Irwin – A girl washes her hands, an important part of strict safety protocols to minimize the risk of Ebola, before entering her classroom at St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone/ HONG KONG, 7 November 2015 – The WHO declaration marking the end of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone today is welcomed by UNICEF as a major victory for the large-scale and coordinated 18-month response. But enhanced surveillance must continue so that the country is ready for any possible future outbreaks, and work must also intensify to support those affected by the outbreak and to build a resilient recovery.
“This unprecedented health crisis has had a deep and tragic impact on children, whether through direct infection and death, or the impact of quarantine measures, school closures and the economic downturn,” said the UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone, Geoff Wiffin.
“We can’t afford to scale back our efforts because investments over the next few months will help reduce the long-term impact of the outbreak on future generations. We need to engage with communities, strengthen the health system and other basic services, and make sure affected families – including survivors and orphans – are not forgotten.”
During the outbreak, UNICEF played a key role in supplying medical equipment, shipping more than half a million protective suits for health workers. UNICEF set up Ebola community care centres to rapidly scale up the number of Ebola beds in 2014, established care centres for affected children, and engaged communities with Ebola safety messages through radio, text messages, posters and door-to-door visits.
In support of the Government, UNICEF also played a critical role in the reopening of schools, the restarting of mass vaccination campaigns, and in launching projects for vulnerable groups such as Ebola-affected children, those out of school, and girls who became pregnant during the outbreak.
This month, UNICEF with support from the European Union, will launch 16 construction projects to strengthen health facilities across the country. Separately, work will also start this month to build two training schools for Maternal and Child Health Aides.
More than 11,500 children in Sierra Leone were impacted through either Ebola infection, losing parents to the disease, or being in quarantine. At least 1.8 million school children had to wait eight months for classrooms to be reopened.
“There is huge relief at reaching the end of the outbreak”, said Mr Wiffin, “but the outbreak continues next-door in Guinea and until they get to zero, we are staying on high-alert particularly in border districts like Kambia. Neighbouring Liberia also had cases after their outbreak was declared over so we must be extremely vigilant.”