The United Nations children’s agency Unicef is scrambling to help Ebola orphans. What happens when their parents die? In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, approaching 4,000 of them have been counted who have lost both father and mother. Other people see them, know what killed the parents, and won’t go near the children — their relatives included.
Children make up around 15 percent of all the cases of Ebola, according to the World Health Organisation. Hand-washing stations specifically for them are set up in the street.
They interact in ways that adults might not, children’s aid representative Zainab Tunkara Clarkson explained: “Children are always playing outside. They’re touching each other, they’re hugging each other, even if you say to them, ‘don’t touch’. They’re playing football, and you see them every day doing such things, so it is about telling them and educating them.”
School is a largely ruled out for the duration of the epidemic. A lot of schools are being kept closed. In Sierra Leone, the government got a programme going so that children can learn lessons at home by radio.
The education ministry’s man in charge, Brima Michael, said: “We have lost over 22 teachers in this fight against the Ebola virus and so one would imagine that if we had let the schools open obviously those teachers would have been interacting with the students, and God only knows how many students would have contracted the disease and how many families at home would have also contracted the disease as a result. So that’s the reason why we close the schools.”
Unicef says that of 200 million dollars promised by would-be donors it has received only one quarter of the funds.
It fears the number of orphans will soon double.