The United Nations said the Ebola crisis is leaving thousands of children orphaned as young and middle-aged adults fall victim to the disease.
Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, told PBS that it is “an extraordinary problem.”
“We’re seeing every few weeks of course the number of Ebola case are doubling, which means that the numbers of orphans are going to increase as well, because those who are falling ill and dying from Ebola are people of childbearing age. We estimate at the moment there are 4,000-plus orphans, and this is probably only the tip of the iceberg in the three affected countries,” Crowe said.
“So it’s really testing us, throwing new challenges at us that we have never had to face before.”
She noted that “every few days,” their offices in all three countries are “getting stories and information about children who are simply abandoned.”
“The case just recently this week of a child-headed household, a 15-year-old taking care of her brother and sister, because they were left under a tree to fend for themselves because family had shunned them — so, in those cases, what we have to do is to find emergency foster care,” Crowe said.
“The good news is, some 600 children in the past few weeks in Liberia alone have been placed with foster care. And survivors or those who have been through this terrible ordeal of having the disease and being able to then care and nurture children are the best form. They’re able to give children the kind of care that nobody else could give because they know what it’s like.”
The crisis has them “sprinting uphill all the time because this is an absolutely monumental battle.”
“But there are protocols now in place which are being followed by many of our partners. And, of course, we’re working very closely with government and all our partners, but it’s not quite enough yet,” she said.
“Ebola has eroded every single aspect of life. It has impacted on children’s health. They’re not getting the routine immunization they need. Pregnant women are not getting the support they need. Children are not going to school. The problems and the needs are outpacing everyone’s ability to be able to respond fast enough.”
According to the World Health Organization’s Oct. 25 situation report, there have been more than 10,000 cases of Ebola since the outbreak began and nearly 5,000 deaths.
The U.S. and Spain still have the only confirmed cases outside of Africa.
A total of 450 healthcare workers have been infected and 244 have died.