The ongoing deadly Ebola outbreak in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) has particularly affected children, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said.
The outbreak in North Kivu Province was declared on Aug. 1, and the UN children’s agency reported that more than 50 youngsters have lost their parents to Ebola.
UNICEF added that so far two children have died, while six others – who either are infected by the disease or suspected to be – are receiving treatment at two centres in the region.
Dr Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF Representative in the DRC, said: “The children affected by the ongoing epidemic need special attention and care.
“Women are the primary caregivers for children, so if they are infected with the disease, there is a greater risk that children and families become vulnerable.”
Ebola is a severe illness with a fatality rate of up to 90 per cent, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Most cases occur through contact with the blood or bodily fluids of people infected by the disease, but Ebola could also be contracted through contact with infected animals, such as following butchering, cooking or eating.
Family members and health workers are among those most at risk, the UN children’s agency warned.
Overall, there have been 78 confirmed or probable cases of Ebola in North Kivu Province, with 44 deaths, while another 24 suspected cases are awaiting laboratory confirmation.
UNICEF and partners have trained nearly 90 psychosocial workers to assist and comfort children in Ebola treatment centres.
These professionals also support children who have been discharged, but who may be at risk of stigmatisation within their communities, and organised awareness-raising activities to facilitate their return.
Rotigliano pointed out that Ebola’s impact on children could go well beyond being infected with the disease.
“Many children are faced with the illness or death of their parents and loved ones, while some children have lost large parts of their families and become isolated. These children urgently need our support,” he said.