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One Year After West Africa Was Declared 'Ebola-Free', The Crisis Is Far From Over

13/01/2017 17:25
StreetChild

"One year after Ebola, life, light and hope have returned to some of the worst-hit communities in Sierra Leone," said George Quaker, a social worker for NGO Street Child, "but many - especially the worst-impacted Ebola orphans - are now suffering from a new crisis: an economic downturn that seems to have no end".

The 14th January marks one year since World Health Organisation first declared all of West Africa 'Ebola free'.

Today, many are trying to put the epidemic that claimed the lives of over 11,000 people across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea behind them. Sadly, for some of the hardest hit families, the crisis is far from over.

ebola

UN food agencies and the Sierra Leone government recently reported that half of the country is facing food shortages. The price of rice has doubled since 2014, fuel costs have rocketed and incomes have stagnated. The Sierra Leonean Government has been forced to announce official austerity measures - a frightening thought in one of the world's poorest countries.

George Quaker said: 'Although after Ebola we've seen rapid healing, strength and absolute resolve to pick up and move on again, just as we did after the eleven year civil war, for the worst affected communities survival is now a real challenge and hunger looms over many.'

In Sierra Leone alone, 4,000 people died when the deadly Ebola virus swept the country in 2014-15, leaving an estimated 12,000 children orphaned. The government's Ebola recovery plan, together with international support, has seen life improve for some but there is still a way to go.

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Munisha, 18, who lives in Freetown, is one of many children orphaned by Ebola who suddenly found themselves head of the household at the height of the epidemic. She was forced to stop her nursing course to look after her little brothers and sisters when she lost her parents. She starts to weep as she remembers the day that she found her parents lying dead in each others arms.
'I was training to be a nurse at the time and I knew about the protocol of quarantining sick persons. I put my mother in a room by herself and always wore rubber gloves and protection when I was caring for her. After two days my father returned, he was sick too.

'I told them both to isolate themselves together in the room away from my five younger siblings. I provided care for them both but they got worse and worse and eventually my mother died. We called the helpline to come and take the body away but the burial team didn't arrive for two days. We left her body in the isolated room with my father and the next day we also found him dead, holding her.'

ebola

She said recently: 'We struggle now for food. Sometimes we don't eat for two or three days. The pastor in our church tries to help us out. My younger siblings are still in school but I have stopped my nursing qualification. I really want to continue for the next two years and become a nurse but I cannot afford the fees. I dream of being a nurse'. 

UK NGO Street Child's CEO Tom Dannatt says:

"At least three quarters of Ebola impacted families in Sierra Leone have had significant support from Street Child and other NGOs since the epidemic but what we have been able to do has not been enough for the toughest and most complex cases - child-headed households, grandparent headed households, households where the numbers of children now run into double-figures.

"We reviewed our Ebola orphan case load and identified 1,400 seriously at-risk Ebola orphans like Munisha in Sierra Leone who need significant extra support. We need to act now but to do that we urgently need to raise more funds."

In another part of Freetown, Mariatu, 16, recalls how she first lost her mother, and then her father to Ebola leaving her to care for her two little brothers. She said:

"After my father died we were driven from the house as the owner was afraid of us and didn't want us to pass on the disease. Now we are back at my father's house where we all live. I do petty trading [at the market] to try and support both my brothers through school but it is very hard to raise the money for fees, books and uniforms. I also do all the cooking in the house."

"We receive support from no one, not even the community. We have aunts and uncles but they don't care and they don't help us."

She continued:

"I want to be somebody, I want to finish school and become a soldier. I also really want my brothers to finish education and get well paid jobs."

Dannatt said: "We have met with many teenage orphans who have taken on the burden of looking after their young siblings and are struggling to cope. Several have dropped out of school, sacrificing their own futures to try and make sure that their brothers and sisters can stay in education. Sadly, running a business and a household is proving too tough for many of them."

Remarkably, after all that they have been through, many of these incredibly resilient teenagers still have hope that life will improve and that they will one day be able to finish their education and have the job they've dreamed of. Their stories are both heroic and tragic.

As we stand with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in remembering those who lost their lives to Ebola and in celebrating the end of the epidemic, we must not forget that life has got worse, rather than better, for some of Ebola's hardest-hit orphans and it is not time for us to turn away yet.

UK NGO Street Child has been appealing to raise funds to help 1,400 seriously at-risk Ebola orphans. Street Child works in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nepal to help some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable children to go to school. To find out more or support the Ebola orphan appeal visit www.street-child.co.uk

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