One year after the first case of Ebola was diagnosed, the crisis is profoundly devastating the West African communities left behind – and it is children who are paying the highest price, according to a new report by NGO Plan International.
The report finds that grieving children who have lost family and loved ones are being shunned, isolated and marginalised, while even children who have not been directly hit by Ebola are going without vaccinations and other crucial medical care.
“Ebola is slipping from the headlines and it feels like the world is moving on. But this report finds that the crisis goes well beyond a health emergency and is a real and ongoing threat to the very social and economic infrastructure of West Africa,” says Rohan Kent, Disaster Risk Manager for Plan International Australia.
“It is hugely important right now that we do not forget the children caught up in this continuing crisis, and that includes children who may not even have been directly touched by Ebola. We are at risk of losing an entire generation, and children in West Africa need our support right now,” Kent says.
Plan interviewed more than 1,800 adults and children in urban and rural areas across Sierra Leone and Liberia for the report, Ebola: Beyond the Health Emergency, the most comprehensive of its kind yet conducted and which reveals that even families untouched by Ebola itself are facing starvation, isolation and economic ruin.
The report’s findings include:
Vaccination programs in Liberia have ground to a halt, while 70 per cent of communities in Sierra Leone say children are no longer being vaccinated.
Reduced family income is forcing children into work in order to contribute to household incomes or to fend for themselves. This premature exposure to the adult world has left them at greater risk of exploitation.
Teenage pregnancy has increased greatly as girls seek a provider when parents have died or have insufficient means to support them. Teenage pregnancy is also linked to an increased risk of sexual exploitation, and some respondents say prostitution is now “rampant”.
80 per cent of mothers in Liberia and 40 per cent in Sierra Leone have no access to maternal health services. Many women are now giving birth without the attendance of skilled health workers.
While the pace of the epidemic is appearing to slow, its distressing impact is now being felt well beyond the effect of the virus itself and those impacts may be felt for decades to come, says the report.
“The report finds that avoiding Ebola is just a small part of the story for most West Africans, as they fight to survive the impact the epidemic has had on the economy, health and education systems, and the social fabric of the region.”
“The report also finds a profound impact that cannot be quantified: children spoke about being unhappy, lonely and isolated, and afraid for their future without loved ones. Many no longer even play outside or with other children.”
Australians can give to Plan’s Ebola crisis appeal at plan.org.au/stop-ebola or by ringing 13 75 26.
Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 51 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.
Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945