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What is the impact of Ebola on children?

The Ebola outbreak has caused schools to close in Liberia and Sierra Leone, jeopardising children's education and futures
The Ebola outbreak has caused schools to close in Liberia and Sierra Leone, jeopardising children's education and futures

Across West Africa, children's futures are threatened due to the disruption and devastation caused by the Ebola outbreak. Schools are closed, health facilities overwhelmed, and children orphaned by Ebola are being shunned by their communities.

Over 5,100 people have been killed by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, reported the World Health Organisation on Wednesday 12th November. Encouragingly, the rate of Ebola transmission is no longer increasing on a national level in Guinea and Liberia. However, Sierra Leone continues to see “steep increases” in the number of cases, and new cases have been identified in Mali

As well as the personal impact of losing a loved one to Ebola, people in affected communities must endure the economic and societal impacts of the epidemic. George Kordahi, SOS National Director in Liberia warns: 

“One must understand the implication of this crisis and the impact it will leave on Liberian society after the situation returns to normal. What we are passing through is a war but with a different face and shape.” 

Liberian ambassador, Jeremiah Sulunteh, also likens the fight with Ebola to war: “In a civil war one can call for ceasefire and talk to various parties involved, but with Ebola there is no ceasefire.”

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School closures jeopardise children's education

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, schools have been closed since September, when children were due to return to school after the summer break. The closure is intended to contain the spread of the deadly virus and protect schoolchildren from contracting it. However, this creates another risk to children as they miss out on education, jeopardising their futures. 

In Liberia, no plan to reopen schools is in place, leaving its 1.5 million children without an education. Sarah Crowe from UNICEF says: “Schools are closed, so children are living in this sort of twilight zone where they know they are not able to touch and play with others as they used to, but of course, they are children and they do.” 

700 children have been abandoned in Liberia because of the Ebola outbreak.

Radio programmes as a stop-gap measure

An MSF staff member carries a young survivor out of the isolation ward at their treatment center in Kailahun, Sierra Leone
In Sierra Leone, this young child is being cared for by a protected
health worker

In Sierra Leone, schools and colleges are not expected to open again until mid-2015. “This will have a devastating effect on the educational pursuits of SOS children and young people. Essentially, it means a whole academic year will be lost, ” says Olatungie Woode, SOS Children's National Director in Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile, children across the country are benefiting from a nationwide educational radio series, launched on 20th October. Although intended only as a stop-gap measure, the programmes cover subjects including maths, English and social sciences, and are being broadcast on 41 stations. It is hoped that 1.7 million children will receive lessons in this way, although this number will be limited by access to electricity and batteries; the cost of which has escalated because if the Ebola crisis. Similar educational radio programmes are due to launch in Liberia in November.

Exacerbating a dire situation

Even before the Ebola outbreak, it is estimated that 70% of Liberian children between the ages of six and 11 were not enrolled in primary school; with one fifth of children involved in child labour. Secondary education was also inaccessible to most Liberian youths, as 98% of secondary schools are in the capital Monrovia, and mostly privately owned.

Before the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, primary attendance rates were 73% for boys and 76% for girls, and at secondary school just 40% for boys and 33% for girls. As Ebola penetrates Sierra Leone and Liberia, these statistics are threatened further, reversing recent educational gains.

2,200 children in Sierra Leone have either been infected by, or lost a caregiver to, Ebola.

Coping in SOS Children's Villages

In the two SOS Children's Villages in Liberia families remain under quarantine, with movement restricted in and out of Children's Villages. George Kordahi, SOS National Director in Liberia, explains how we are ensuring that children in our care continue to receive an education despite schools being closed: “We rely on SOS mothers in their respective homes to fill the gap in the best way possible, with school materials provided within the family homes.”

Social Centre, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Children inside SOS Children's Villages are receiving education via
SOS mothers and SOS teachers

In the three SOS Children's Villages in Sierra Leone, a select team of teachers from the SOS Schools have been invited inside the Villages to teach core subjects to the children and young people. 

SOS young people living outside of the Village in youth homes, and children staying with their biological family, will not benefit from this. However, they will be supported in other ways, as National Director Olatungie Woode explains:

“The youths who receive basic living support from SOS also receive basic medical supplies to prevent themselves from getting infected with Ebola. As for their schooling, they try to do some home studies until such time as schools and colleges can reopen. There is not much that these youths can do, but to stay home as much as possible and to avoid mingling with people as a best precaution. SOS can only try to support with our limited resources.”
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