As the Ebola death toll in West Africa continues to rise, we are rapidly scaling up our response in order to match its reach. But, along with most of the humanitarian and international community, we are playing catch up. The initial response to this crisis was too slow, and too small.
The self-flagellation and recriminations must come later. What must come now, with not one iota of a caveat, qualification or delay, is an unprecedented global effort to prevent Ebola from shattering the futures of a whole generation of children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
I write this from Monrovia, Liberia's capital. This country accounts for more than 2,000 of the 3,400 estimated deaths from Ebola across the region, but with cases going unreported, some choosing to die without seeking help, and others succumbing in communities which are barely accessible, that is almost certainly a gross underestimate. Unicef calculates that around 2,000 children in Liberia have lost both parents to the virus.
And what faces a child in this position? The chances are, they will be a 'contact', meaning they were in very close proximity to someone who had Ebola. For those who are identified, this means 21 days under quarantine being monitored every day for symptoms. For some children here, it means being pushed to the margins of society, and rejected by a community whose instinct to help is paralysed by their sheer terror of this horrific disease.
All this means that Jennifer, five months, is comparatively fortunate. She is living under quarantine with her aunt, her two brothers Robin, six and Luke, 12, and her 13-year-old big sister Sarah (*all names changed). Their mother became sick a little over a month ago, and passed away on September 7 at MSF's ELWA treatment centre in Monrovia. Just two weeks later, their father died in the same facility. It was only at this point that the children were placed under quarantine with their aunt.
We provided them with a 21-day survival pack. It includes food, water, and hygiene items to help sustain them whilst under quarantine. We will give psychosocial support to try and help them cope. But like all children here now, they face a precariously uncertain future. Not everyone will accept that they are safe to be around and to play with, even when they emerge from isolation.
Save the Children has been running a mass public campaign to educate people about Ebola. Messages are broadcast three times a day, every day, on 14 different radio stations in eight of Liberia's 15 counties. They are estimated to have reached 260,000 people. We created tens of thousands of Ebola awareness posters and fact sheets for the Ministry of Health to distribute, and we are now running training sessions with healthcare workers on infection prevention and control to allow them to reopen clinics that have been forced to shut.
Although the challenge is unprecedented, and the prognosis for the spread of this virus wildly unpredictable, there are some certainties - a co-ordinated global effort on the scale required will save thousands of lives, and there are going to be many, many children who require the world's compassion, care and attention for some time to come.
Save the Children is scaling up its operations. The Ebola Treatment Centre we built in Bong is being run by International Medical Corps and already saving lives. We are building another in Margibi, where our teams are also hard at work constructing 10 Community Care Centres and mobilising communities to use them so that people are not left to die with no access to health care.
But it's not enough. We know it's not enough. The families here know it's not enough.
The international and humanitarian community must pour money, technical expertise and equipment into Liberia and across the region. We must not reflect on this crisis in years to come and realise we did not do enough, and that thousands of people lost their lives as a result.Suggest a correction