As Liberia marks end of Ebola transmission, UNICEF highlights need for better services for children

As Liberia marks end of Ebola transmission, UNICEF highlights need for better services for children

A boy washes his hands while other children queue behind him at the Slipway primary school in central Monrovia, the capital.

On 18 March 2015 in Liberia, UNICEF has worked closely with the Government and local communities to develop safety protocols aimed at minimizing the risk of Ebola virus disease (EVD) infection as children have returned to learning. Schools across the country reopened on 16 February, following a six-month closure because of the crisis. Teachers have been trained to implement and monitor safety measures, including taking children’s temperatures when they arrive to school and making them wash their hands before entering the classroom. Soap and other hygiene materials have been distributed, and mass mobilization campaigns on EVD prevention have been conducted nationwide.
MONROVIA, Liberia/ HONG KONG, 3 September 2015– UNICEF today welcomed the announcement that Liberia has once again achieved zero Ebola transmission, and expressed hope that the country will now be able to focus on recovering from the outbreak, which has taken a severe toll on the lives of thousands of children and their communities.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0552/Irwin

A boy washes his hands – a safety protocol to prevent the spread of Ebola – at the Slipway primary school in Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia.

“The past 17 months have been a terrifying period for children and their families,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s Representative in Liberia. “Even before this outbreak, Liberian children had limited access to quality health, education and social services. Too many children were not in school, and without quality health, sanitation or social services. We now have an even steeper hill to climb.”

More than 4,500 children lost one or both parents or primary caregivers to Ebola in Liberia, according to Government data. The total figure is over 19,300 in the three worst affected countries, which also include Guinea and Sierra Leone. Many more were affected in some way or another, being quarantined, watching loved ones die, losing out months of schooling or being unable to access health services, which were overwhelmed during the outbreak.

“Our focus now is on improving access to education, health and other services at the community level, and to ensure Liberia is better equipped to face future health threats, be it measles, pertussis or Ebola,” said Yett.

UNICEF is supporting efforts to strengthen health systems in Liberia, with a strong focus on improving access to community health facilities, routine immunization, increasing nutrition, as well as ensuring better water, sanitation and hygiene systems in health facilities and schools. UNICEF is also providing learning and teaching materials to help ease the burden on parents sending their children to school, reconstructing schools, and supporting the expansion of social services and efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality.

Liberia was first declared free of Ebola transmission on 9 May – having gone 42 days without any case – but new cases emerged again the following month.

A rapid response to this most recent outbreak by the Government of Liberia and numerous partners, including UNICEF and communities, resulted in the spread of Ebola being quickly contained, patients treated, and the dead being buried according to strict safety protocols. The last patient with Ebola was released from hospital on 23 July.