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Protecting children as Ebola strikes Western Africa

Ebola poses a deadly threat, and we are acting to prevent infection
Ebola poses a deadly threat, and we are acting to prevent infection

Western Africa's outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus is now thought to be affecting three countries, with confirmed and suspected cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. No suspected cases have been seen at any SOS clinics so far, and we are taking every possible precaution to ensure our Children's Villages and other facilities remain infection free.

We are on high alert to ensure all our facilities and Children's Villages remain free of the virus. Thanks to their expert local knowledge, all our teams are able to deal with the threat in a manner appropriate to communities.

What is Ebola virus?

Ebola is a haemorrhagic virus causing flu-like symptoms followed by vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding. It is highly contagious and spread through contact with infected blood, bodily fluids and organs as well as contaminated surfaces. Mortality is between 25% and 90% depending on the strain. Outbreaks are usually small in scale; occurring in remote rainforest regions following prolonged contact with infected animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzees and forest antelope.

This outbreak is different because after initial cases in the relatively remote N'zerekore region of Guinea, the disease spread to the capital Conakry, a city of two million people. So far, at least 80 people out of 122 cases have died, and the Guinean government says that the mortality rate of the outbreak currently stands at 68%. Since then, the disease appears to have crossed the border into Liberia and cases are suspected in Sierra Leone as well. The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has called the scale and geographic spread of the outbreak “unprecedented”, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) says the disease nonetheless covers a “limited geographic area.”

Medical tray
All our clinics are fully equipped with essential hygiene supplies including soap, detergent and disinfectant

What are we doing to keep SOS families safe?

There is no cure for Ebola and it is usually fatal. “Prevention is better than cure,” says Dr James N Lewis from our SOS clinic in Monrovia, Sierra Leone. The best way to combat the virus is through good personal hygiene and intense vigilance by all members of society, especially medical professionals. “We work in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare,” says Dr Lewis. We are also educating staff and children about the dangers posed by the disease and how to avoid it.

In Guinea, we are running awareness campaigns across all our Children's Villages. All staff and some young people have been given special training on signs and symptoms, means of transmission, and preventative measures. This will enable them to protect SOS families as well as people from the community against this deadly disease. All our facilities, from family homes to SOS schools, have been fully stocked with essential hygiene supplies such as soap and disinfectant as this is the best way to prevent infection.

Vigilance and protective measures

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, we are running similar awareness campaigns. Staff have also been supplied with protective clothing such as gowns, gloves and face-masks, headgear and special shoes to help reduce the spread of infection.

Evan Lin Wonlue, a nurse from our SOS clinic in the Liberian capital Monrovia, explains how education is helping to protect children from our Children's Village as well as children from our schools in the area: “The clinic is supported by the nurses working in the two locations to conduct sensitisation and create awareness at... the Villages and the schools.” By ensuring children are aware of the dangers and how to avoid infection, we are helping to protect children in our care and across the community from this deadly disease.

We run eight Children's Villages across the three countries affected by the outbreak. Find out more about our work in the region.