The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has orphaned at least 3,700 children, according to UNICEF, creating a separate humanitarian crisis from the health disaster befalling the affected nations.
Children as young as three years old have lost at least one parent to the deadly disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) updated their Ebola death toll to over 3,000 people this week, leaving scores of children parentless. Unfortunately, due to the stigma from Ebola, the children face a dim future. Children who return to their communities might be fed by neighbors or taken in by other family members, but many are avoided in their most desperate hour.
“Thousands of children are living through the deaths of their mother, father, or family members from Ebola,” said Unicef’s Manuel Fontaine. “These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned. Orphans are usually taken in by a member of the extended family, but in some communities, the fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties.”
There are children who have no identification on them and are left at the hospitals. In one instance chronicled in the Liberian Observer, on September 15, one toddler arrived at the Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia with his mother. Both climbed out of a taxi cab, but the mother took only a few steps before she died. She was not tested for Ebola, but the health workers placed her body on a pickup truck to transport the dead for burial. The woman was never identified.
Katie Meyler, founder of the organization More Than Me, helps the orphans. The girl was identified as Pearlina, but no details were provided how workers found out the girl’s name. Meyler posted a picture of the girl on Facebook with an update. Pearlina was rejected by neighbors, so Meyler brought her to the More Than Me guesthouse with “stuffed animals, a DVD player, new clothes” and will have a room “till her family comes to claim her.” She is tested regularly for Ebola.
Salesian Missions, a nonprofit Catholic organization, was asked to step in for orphans in Sierra Leone. Father Jorge Crisafulli said the children are “the poorest of the poor.”
“There are already 70 in need of immediate attention,” he said in August. “The number will increase.”
Families will not take the children because they fear Ebola. Crisafulli said the organization can house children in a school because pre-existing shelters will not take them in “for fear they’re infected” with Ebola. He hopes more people will help the orphans.
“I know that there are already young people on the ground ready to offer their time, their talents, and even their lives to do something for those who are suffering,” said Crisafulli. “They say that it is better to die doing something good for others than to die out of fear, watching the news on TV.”
SOS Children’s Villages, an organization in the United Kingdom, reaches out to orphans all over the world. On September 16, the group offered to care for orphans in Sierra Leone.
“SOS Children has offered to care for 165 orphaned and abandoned children from Kenema district who have lost one of both parents due to Ebola,” said the group.” These children are particularly vulnerable due to being stigmatised and discriminated against. As a result, surviving relations are not willing to take care of them because they are afraid of catching Ebola themselves.”
They promised regular medical checks on the children. The children will have regular access to soap, clean water, and hand sanitizer.