© UNICEF/UNI183270/Bindra – A child receives a measles vaccination at the Madina Health Centre in Guéckédou, Guinea.
But the impact on children doesn’t end today
CONAKRY/ HONG KONG, December 29, 2015 – Almost two years to the day when a toddler became the first victim of Ebola in West Africa, UNICEF welcomed the declaration that the outbreak has ended in Guinea, but cautioned that the thousands of children orphaned by the disease, as well as those who survived infection, will need continued support.
“While we mark this occasion, we must all remember that children were greatly impacted by Ebola. They were more likely to die if infected. Over 22,000 children lost one or both parents in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. They are traumatized and continue to be stigmatized in their neighbourhoods. For thousands of girls and boys, the outbreak does not end today. It will be with them throughout their lives. Let us commit to be with them too,” said Dr. Mohamed Ag Ayoya, UNICEF’s Representative in Guinea.
In Guinea alone, 6,220 children lost one or both parents or their primary caregiver, while 230 survived infection and 519 were killed by Ebola.
Guinea was declared free of transmission today by the World Health Organization and the Government, having had no cases for 42 days – twice the maximum incubation period. Sierra Leone had reached that milestone in November and Liberia is expected to follow suit in mid-January.
One of the main challenges moving forward will be to rebuild and strengthen health systems, which were profoundly impacted by Ebola. In Guinea, vaccinations for children under one year dropped 30 per cent, all hospitalizations fell 54 per cent and assisted deliveries by a trained practitioner dropped 11 per cent between January and August 2014, according to the Government.
“Weak health systems fuelled the outbreak in all three countries. And, today, the system in Guinea is even weaker,” said Ayoya.
UNICEF has been responding since the beginning of the outbreak, providing much needed supplies, deploying social mobilizers to educate communities, providing water and sanitation, supporting orphans and other affected children and ensuring that all girls and boys could continue their education.
Experience in the three worst affected countries has demonstrated that, with the proper preparation, children can go to school even during an epidemic.
The outbreak showed just how important it is that communities are at the heart of any emergency response. UNICEF and partners have worked to establish community-based networks to ensure that the people themselves were taking the lead in the response.
In Guinea, there was no universal, mass media outlet to deliver life-saving messages to all of the people in more than 20 languages and dialects. In this vacuum, rumours and fear spread easily. To solve this, UNICEF built six new community radio stations and rehabilitated 23 existing ones. These radio stations continue to broadcast in local languages and engage communities with radio clubs and call-in shows. In Forecariah, the area where Ebola was deeply entrenched, the radio and its outreach programmes were a major factor in ending the outbreak.
“With generous support of our donors, UNICEF and our implementing partners will continue rebuilding the health system. The long road ahead requires a sustained and robust follow-up to ensure that Ebola can find no safe haven here,” said Ayoya.