UNICEF welcomes end of Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, calls for more support to 11,500+ affected children

UNICEF welcomes end of Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, calls for more support to 11,500+ affected children

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On 14 April, a girl washes her hands with water from a covered bucket with a tap before entering a classroom, at St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Freetown, the capital. Hand-washing is part of the strict safety protocols being implemented in all schools across the country, to minimize the risk of Ebola virus disease (EVD) transmission at school. The UNICEF logo is on the bucket.

In March/April 2015 in Sierra Leone, as schools across the country prepare to reopen after an eight month closure due to the Ebola virus disease (EVD) crisis, the Government, UNICEF and partners are working to ensure that children remain safe by reducing as much as possible the risk EVD transmission. Schools – which had remained closed across the country after the July-August break – are scheduled to reopen on 14 April, with some 1.8 million students expected to resume their studies. To support students’ return, UNICEF has facilitated the training of 9,000 teachers to implement safety protocols to minimize the risk of transmission at schools, including taking children’s temperatures when they arrive at school and making them wash their hands before entering the classroom. UNICEF is also supporting the distribution of hygiene materials and cleaning equipment to prepare school buildings and to reduce the chance of infections; and is providing 24,300 hand-washing stations (about three per school), as well as 1.8 million school kits and psychosocial support for students. UNICEF is also supporting social mobilization activities to raise awareness, and daily government emergency radio education programmes to allow children to continue learning at home during the Ebola crisis, and has distributed some 17,000 solar radios to children in rural communities.

© 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.”