Sierra Leone to host Ebola survivors confab


OCTOBER 1, 2014 By Moses A. Kargbo

TROUBLING TIMES … President Koroma is not a happy man these days
TROUBLING TIMES … President Koroma is not a happy man these days

The child welfare agency UNICEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, will this October hold a “Survivor’s Conference” in Freetown to work out what role Ebola survivors could potentially play in caring for the children, whether in treatment centers or interim care centres or elsewhere, disclosed Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa during yesterday’s regular press briefing organized by the Information Service of the United Nations in Geneva.

He said UNICEF hopes to work with some 2,500 survivors representing a projection of survivors over the next few months and “not the number of survivors today”.

Mr. Fontaine also informed the briefing that the immediate and important issues on the ground in Sierra Leone are the lack of treatment capacity and the need to break the cycle of transmission.

“However, the side effects of the Ebola crisis require more focus as they are becoming increasingly acute,” he said. “One side effect is the indirect impact the Ebola crisis is having on other health issues such as malaria or acute diarrhoea. In most cases, access to treatment and services are not available. A second issue is the impact of the crisis on child protection.”

UNICEF has estimated that there are approximately 3,700 children who had been orphaned because of Ebola – either by the deaths of one or both parents – across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

There are several categories of children who needed to be cared for, said Fontaine, and the first is the orphans. “A second category is children who are potentially orphans but have disappeared, for example children whose parents had brought them to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) then died; no information was taken about their children who are now difficult to trace. Third, there is the issue of caring for children who had been in contact with their parents or had been sick with Ebola themselves and are now survivors, and who now bear very strong stigma in their communities,” he added.

Also reporting on the situation in Sierra Leone, head of the Guinea and Sierra Leone Communications Team for the World Health Organization (WHO), Nyka Alexander, described the case of three young boys who had recently been released from the government-run treatment centre in Kenema, where their mother had died from Ebola.

She said when WHO interviewed the children a few days later the oldest child, Victor, 11, said he didn’t allow himself to cry when his mother died because he didn’t want to scare his four and five-year old brothers, who were also sick. “Victor said he was looking for his father, but later discovered that his father had also died. Now the boys would be cared for by their grandmother,” she reported.

Ms. Alexander also informed the briefing that there was uncertainty over the exact statistics about the outbreak due to the discrepancy between reported cases and confirmed deaths, and the lack of information about the actual outcome of many of the reported cases.

WHO epidemiologists and experts from the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, she said, are working with the affected countries to clarify those numbers.

She said the agenda for the planned Survivors’ Conference in Sierra Leone is being finalized, noting that Ebola survivors are to be given a platform to share their experiences.

Meanwhile, Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme (WFP) told the briefing that the agency had delivered almost 5,000 metric tonnes of food for more than 380,000 people in the three most affected countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) under its emergency operation as of 26 August.

She said WFP has contracted a ship for the Ebola response, which is currently in Cotonou, Benin where it would be loaded with 7,000 metric tonnes of rice to be transported to Freetown and Monrovia.