16 September, 2014 - Ebola: Crisis fuelling starvation fears among Sierra Leone poor

Dr Unni Krishnan, Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response, is available for grabs and phone interviews from London from 5pm. Please contact Adam Cathro on 0488 202 945 to arrange.

Supplies of food are running so low in Sierra Leone that residents fear many could die of hunger if the Ebola virus is not contained soon, reports NGO Plan International Australia.

At the same time, residents of Liberia say the crisis is ‘worse than a war zone’ as the deadly disease continues to claim lives. At the latest count, West Africa has seen at least 2,218 people killed by the virus, and 4,366 Ebola cases. In Sierra Leone, 524 people have died and in Liberia the disease has claimed 1,137 lives.

Residents of the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown say food prices are soaring out of control because borders to Liberia and Guinea closed, leaving traders unable to bring food from one to country to another and causing prices to spiral beyond the reach of many poor people.

Dr Unni Krishnan, Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response at Plan International, added: “With each passing day, the true impact of the Ebola outbreak is becoming clear. Food prices are escalating and access to food is emerging as a key challenge.

“We fear that the food crisis escalation will have a detrimental effect on children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. The situation calls for a multi-dimensional response covering health, food and humanitarian aspects.”

The Sierra Leone government has also announced a countrywide ‘lock down’ in a bid to contain the virus.

Residents will be restricted to the areas around their homes for three days from September 19 in a bid to halt new infections and help health workers track down people suffering from the disease. But people fear the lock-down will have even more impact on rising food prices.

In Liberia, people in affected communities are fast losing hope, believing that they will soon be dead from the fatal virus. According to Mamadee Kamara, a social worker in Lofa County in Voinjama, says: “It’s worse than war. Everything has come to a halt. There’s no education, as the schools and colleges are closed. Businesses are not moving, the city is empty and people are now running away. People are even questioning why they should work, because soon they’ll be dead.”

Plan International is providing information and awareness messages via radio, as well as hand-washing and sanitary kits to affected communities. It has also teamed up with International Medical Corps (IMC), a leader in global health and emergency response, to respond to the deadly virus.

Working together, Plan and IMC will address immediate short-term needs and long-term requirements.

The response plan covers prevention, case management, psychological first aid, child protection and other lifesaving measures.

Australians wishing to help can give to Plan’s Ebola crisis appeal at http://www.plan.org.au/Donations/Our-Current-Appeals/Ebola-Crisis-Appeal.aspx or by ringing 13 75 26. $41 can provide a hand-washing facility for 100 people to help prevent spread of the virus. $111 can provide 80 infection control posters to help children and communities understand the signs and symptoms. $317 can provide 40 pairs of disposable gloves and overalls to protect a health worker.

Relevant photos are available here:

http://bit.ly/planebola . Please credit ‘Plan International Australia’.

Editors’ notes:
Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious or political affiliations.
Plan has been working in Sierra Leone since 1976, Liberia since 1982 and Guinea since 1989, helping poor children access their rights to education, health, sanitation and protection. The organisation sponsors 53,250 children spread over 1,367 communities across the three countries.

Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945