Following a high level House of Lords briefing on impact of Ebola on children in West Africa attended by parliamentarians, media, diplomats and donors, the British charity, Street Child this morning confirmed its analysis that 20,000 children have been left traumatised and destitute by the Ebola virus.
Tom Dannatt, Street Child’s chief executive said: “Looking at extrapolated figures from our own field teams, especially in Sierra Leone where, uniquely, we have an active presence in every major town, we would estimate that there are likely to be in excess of 20,000 children that have already lost their primary caregiver to Ebola. And clearly that number is growing daily.”
“Our focus is less the narrow issue of whether a child has lost one or both biological parents, but how many children have lost the adult they most rely on for care and in particular material support. The results are shocking.”
“The only other widely reported figure is that of 3,700 orphans, which has been in circulation since September. This number needs expunging from our minds as it is a woeful and dangerous under-representation of the scale of the crisis. 20,000 destitute children and growing daily is its own humanitarian crisis, entirely separate from Ebola as a medical issue. As such, it deserves its own massive response and that response starts with an acknowledgement of the scale of the issue at hand.”
Kelfa Kargbo, Country Director of Street Child in Sierra Leone gave this example: “We were tasked by the government to deliver aid to orphans in the district of Kailahun, which has 14 sections. They told us there were 176 so we planned accordingly. But we exhausted our allocation after only 3 sections - and even then only after we had managed to stretch it across 265 orphans, all of whom were clearly in dire need. This tells you everything you need to know about the gap between the official orphan numbers and the emerging data on children left destitute by this disease. All of my teams across the country will tell similar stories. The number of child-headed households is truly shocking.”
Street Child of Liberia tells a similar story. Their records disclose that that the charity has physically given aid to more than 500 Ebola orphans in Monrovia. Official reports for orphans in Greater Monrovia stand at just 157.
The extreme suffering of Ebola orphans has received an upsurge in interest, not least following reports that Street Child released to the media last month in which recently orphaned children bravely spoke out about the issues they are facing. But the scale of the issue – and its extremity – remains unreported.
“In the past weeks and months we’ve been heartened to see a scaled up response to the medical emergency of the Ebola virus,” says Dannatt. “But the impact that the disease is already having upon tens of thousands of already vulnerable children must be fully recognised. Ebola has already tragically claimed the lives of 2,000 children in the region but a further 20,000 Ebola orphans’ lives are already at risk. We’re urging charities, governments, NGOs and the UK public to unite behind this growing crisis.”