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Plan International: Ebola Orphans Face Poverty, Abandonment, and Stigma

MONROVIA, Liberia, September 18, 2014 -- The number of children orphaned by Ebola is rising fast as Liberia’s poor, single-parent families take the brunt of the deadly virus, warns Plan International.

Ebola has so far claimed 1137 lives in Liberia (WHO, 7 September 2014), among them scores of single mothers who have left young families behind. Now, according to government sources, up to 300 children are struggling to cope after losing their caregivers to the spreading epidemic.

Koala Oumarou, Country Director for Plan Liberia, said: “The large number of single-parent families in Liberia means that as mothers are dying from Ebola, the children lose their sole caregiver, and have no one to look after them.

“Once their mother dies, the orphaned children have to leave school, if they were in school in the first place. They are ostracized by the community, and they have to work, to try to make a living and support themselves.”

Anita Queirazza, Child Protection in Emergencies Specialist for Plan International, added: “Treated children and adults who return to their communities are being feared, avoided and threatened, leaving them excluded and socially isolated.”

Many orphans are also being stigmatized after their mothers’ deaths because of their association with Ebola. With widespread fear and anxiety among affected communities as deaths continue, other families are unwilling to take them in, because they are afraid of contracting the virus.

Oumarou said: “These children are really stigmatized by Ebola, and many families just do not want to help them after their parents die because they are scared of contracting the disease. But these children are in dire need of assistance.”

“Extended families don’t want to take care of orphans of affected parents or other vulnerable children anymore out of fear of being contaminated or stigmatized in the community,” added Queirazza. “Some foster families have abandoned orphans after receiving the accompanying food and non-food assistance, leaving the children to fend for themselves.”

Transmission of the Ebola virus in Liberia is already intense and the number of new cases is increasing exponentially, with the case fatality rate of 58% among the highest of the three countries affected (WHO).

Plan is currently responding across Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea in areas of child protection, social mobilization, and behavior change through awareness raising activities.

Dr. Unni Krishnan, Head of Disaster Response and Preparedness for Plan International, added: “Ebola has hit children hard and it will leave lasting impacts. They are disproportionately affected both directly and indirectly.

“Not only are they affected directly and becoming ill, but they are also losing their parents and caregivers. We must make children, expectant mothers and nursing mothers, a priority.”

About Plan International USA: Plan International USA is part of the Plan International Federation, a global organization that works side by side with communities in 50 developing countries to end the cycle of poverty for children and their families. Plan works at the community level to develop customized solutions and ensure long-term sustainability. Our solutions are designed up-front to be owned by communities for generations to come and range from clean water and health care programs to education projects and child protection initiatives. For more information, please visit www.PlanUSA.org.

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