The Ebola epidemic which has coursed through West Africa began almost exactly a year ago with a boy in the forests of Guinea. Helping to stop the spread of the disease is a challenge unlike anything Save the Children has ever faced before.
But the choice we faced was clear: fear or act. And the need to act could not have been more stark. By now, the high death rates and horrific symptoms have pervaded public consciousness.
But the impact of Ebola has gone far beyond the 18,603 reported cases and 6,915 reported deaths. At least 3,700 children have lost one or both parents to the disease.
They now face uncertain futures, with fear of the disease sometimes overcoming the urge of their communities to care for vulnerable children.
Health systems risk collapse
Ebola has killed at least 349 health workers in countries where they are already far too scarce.
Now, children and families are afraid to visit health clinics for fear of contacting the disease or being misdiagnosed. They are going untreated for common and treatable but deadly diseases like malaria and diarrhoea.
Schools are closed, putting a generation’s education at risk. We know that once children have the absolute basics they need to survive, education is their number one priority in an emergency.
When the need is this overwhelming, the rules at Save the Children are simple: do whatever it takes.
Information is key
But this time, ‘whatever it takes’ was more than we have ever bargained for. Normally, when the bombs and bullets are flying, it’s just you at risk. This time, the risk of bringing Ebola back to family and friends is what keeps our teams awake at night.
However, by applying their dedication, courage and expertise our teams have reached more than 150,000 people, including 50,000 children, affected by the epidemic.
In combatting Ebola, information is a key battleground. We have trained thousands of health workers to reach out into Ebola-hit communities and create the behaviour change needed to bring transmission rates down.
We’re ensuring people know how to spot the signs and symptoms early, and are clear about how to act when they do. We’re showing people how, with the right hand washing and hygiene practices, they can help keep their families safe.
Treating the infected
At the heart of the response is the need to quickly build and run treatment centres designed specifically for Ebola patients.
In Sierra Leone, Save the Children is managing an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) which currently has 60 beds available, and more than 120 people have been through its doors. We are scaling up and expect to have 80 beds by the end of the year
While there is currently still no cure for Ebola, by making sure patients are well hydrated and nourished, and kept cool, we give them the best possible chance of beating the virus themselves.
The centre also keeps people who may be infected out of their communities and isolated as quickly as possible so that they don’t risk infecting their family and friends.
The last point is also the thinking behind the innovative Community Care Centres we’ve opened in Liberia. There, people are assessed quickly, isolated, and tested for Ebola near their home areas.
This lessens the chance that they infect others, whilst also ensuring them a basic level of care before they are either transferred to an ETC — if they test positive for Ebola – or referred to a local healthcare facility if they test negative
Breaking new ground
We are also helping ensure that children who have lost parents to the disease, or survived it themselves, have safe and loving places to stay while we work with their communities to find them permanent homes.
All of this is new – not only to Save the Children but to the entire international community. And things don’t always go to plan.
With our response to the Ebola epidemic, Save the Children has broken new ground and stepped further into the unknown each day. Thank you to each and every supporter who has helped us step up for children in West Africa in 2014.
To find our more about our response to date – visit our Ebola Crisis Appeal page