By Lisa Schlein
GENEVA - The UN children's fund (UNICEF) reports the number of children orphaned by Ebola or separated from their parents because of the disease in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has more than doubled since April.
Since the epidemic was declared more than one year ago, aid agencies have registered 1,380 children who have lost one or both parents to Ebola. During the same period, nearly 2,470 children have been separated from parents undergoing treatment for the disease or isolated because they have come in contact with an infected person.
World Health Organization figures put the number of Ebola cases at 2,831, including nearly 1,900 deaths. UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says more children are getting sick and dying in this epidemic than in previous ones.
"In this epidemic, about 30% of the cases are among children, whereas in previous epidemics, the proportion was about 20 percent," Mercado said. "As of the fourth of August, there were 787 children below 18 who were infected with Ebola and there have been 527 deaths."
Mercado says the children are under enormous stress and need extensive physical, psychosocial and social care. Given the more than doubling of children in need, she says these specialized services must be urgently scaled up, especially in Beni, where the largest number of children are affected.
"For children with no surviving parents, the needs are longer term," she said. "The teams work to place children with relatives or foster families, which is not easy given the economic burden of raising extra children and the fear of catching the disease or being associated with it. It often requires delicate mediation, as well as financial support for food, school fees and other basic necessities."
The work being done by psychosocial assistants is critical because stigma against Ebola orphans is pervasive, Mercado told VOA. She added that children who have been in contact with someone infected with the virus often are rejected by families and communities who believe they will become sick.
This, she said, is when social workers step in to convince these people they have nothing to fear and that providing loving care for the children will help them thrive.