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Ebola In West Africa: One Year After Outbreak 

By Jude Fuhnwi in Dakar, Senegal

“Although the Ebola outbreak is approaching its 1st anniversary, and even though it appears ‘the worst is over’, and reported new cases seem to be declining, it is still not really time for celebration,” stated the National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Sierra Leone, Woode Olatungie, on February 6.

On December 28, 2013, a two-year-old boy died and was later identified by researchers of the New England Journal of Medicine as the first case of Ebola in West Africa and confirmed by the World Health Organisation, WHO. The Ebola outbreak was first reported in March 2014.

The toddler, named Emile Ouamouno, died of Ebola in Meliandou, a small village in Gueckedou district, in the South East of Guinea. Emile’s death became the root cause of a catastrophic Ebola outbreak which has infected over 21,000 people today and claimed more than 9000 lives, according to a WHO report.

Fast Spread

Meliandou is close to the point where the borders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone converge and the deadly virus circulated easily into the neighbouring countries and has killed 3,710 people in Liberia, 3,274 in Sierra Leone and 1,937 in Guinea.
The virus also travelled to Senegal, Nigeria where it claimed eight lives, and six others in Mali, then to the United States of America where it killed one person. WHO admits the numbers are underestimates because of difficulty to collect data, the BBC has reported.

“Mothers and fathers, who contracted Ebola, had their children infected and these children later died. Some died during treatment at the Ebola Treatment Units, ETUs, and others at the Interim Care Centres, ICCs, few months after” said National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Sierra Leone, Olatungie.
On his part, George Kordahi, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Liberia, said the past year was a “very difficult and trying time for us. I have never experienced such emotions personally. Death was all around us but, yet, was invisible unless it touches you. July, August, September, October and November of 2014 are months we will never forget as long as we live.”

SOS Children’s Villages Safe, Alert

Movements in and out of SOS Children’s Villages were restricted to avoid anyone bringing the virus into the village environments. All SOS schools were closed and children are being schooled at home, where possible, especially in Sierra Leone.
In Liberia, children read books in Libraries in SOS Children’s Villages and the older children help younger ones with studies.

With essential funding for care programmes from individual sponsors and many multilateral and governmental entities, SOS Children’s Villages stepped up precautionary measures to guard against infection.
The SOS Children’s Village in N’zérékoré, located in the most affected region of Guinea, was the most vulnerable SOS facility, especially as communities were hostile to sensitisation.

Aware of this high risk and concerned about the lives of children in the care of SOS Children’s Villages, local authorities donated concentrated solutions of sodium hypochlorite and bleach that were distributed to SOS family homes and schools.
SOS teams carried out campaigns and health briefings to sensitize coworkers and SOS children about the public health danger and purchased essential household goods in bulk and stocked in SOS Children’s Villages ahead of government enforced ‘lockdown’, to ensure smooth functioning of the villages.

A Clinic That Won’t Give Up – SOS Medical Centre Monrovia

SOS Medical Centre Monrovia continued to render services to hundreds of people since the outbreak was reported in Liberia. The centre was among the few that operated all 24 hours a day.
Steadfast to its relief efforts, the SOS Medical Centre is presently exploring the possibility of collaborating, as a referral centre, with the partnership between the Governments of Liberia and the United States of America to study infectious diseases and develop clinical research capacity in Liberia.

Slowing But Not Under Control

WHO figures, in a recent situation report on 4 February, indicate that the number of new cases of Ebola increased in all three countries, worst-hit by the virus, in the last week of January.

It is the first increase in a week in 2015, ending a series of encouraging declines. Sierra Leone registered 80 of the 124 new cases, Guinea 39 and Liberia five. Earlier, WHO had announced its lowest weekly count of new cases since June 2014 and Liberia recorded only five new confirmed cases in 10 months, raising hopes in the fight against the disease.

“The fact that figures of the infected are decreasing is a relief. If it continues in this trend, then, normalcy is not far-fetched,” said the Deputy Director of SOS Children’s village, Freetown.

New Signs Of Hope

After months of closure, the SOS Hermann Gmeiner International School and SOS Kindergartens in Liberia could reopen on February 16, if the infection count remains low. Government also announced a postponed reopening of other schools in the country on March 2.

“A delegation from SOS visited the MOE and this was the final information we received,” Mr Kordahi.

“The thought of wasting a whole year at home was frustrating. I am confident schools will reopen soon and we all will be in our classrooms again with friends,” said Mariama, a student of SOS Hermann Gmeiner International School, Freetown.
In Guinea, schools resumed on Monday, 19 January, three months late and some parents are still reluctant to send their children to school, for fear they might contract the virus.
“Fear that the virus makes more victims still exists because we cannot get people abandon customary habits and practices,” said National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Guinea, Diane Oumou. SOS Children and young people have participated in several socio-cultural activities including preventive awareness sessions against Ebola and community programmes to clean up public places.
“We look forward to developing programmes for our upkeep. All promises by Government ranging from food, medical, money and care for children are failed,” said Korlia Bonarwolo, a survivor, while pleading with Government and international partners to assist in sustaining Ebola survivors.

Home For The Children ‘No One Wants To See’

As the outbreak slows, SOS Children’s Villages is shifting focus to care for over 10,000 children orphaned by Ebola in West Africa. Sierra Leone alone is host to about 8,000 Ebola orphans.
As a leading child care organisation in the country, the organisation has started admitting Ebola orphans to provide long lasting quality care, protection and education to these children who had lost one or both parents to the dreadful disease.
SOS Children’s Villages admitted first four Ebola orphans into SOS Children’s Village Makeni on Friday, January 23 2015.

“By mid-February, additional six children orphaned by Ebola will be admitted in the Children’s Village in Makeni, about 15 to 20 in the Children’s Village Freetown and 10 to 15 in the Children’s Village Bo”, noted Woode, the National Director.
The impact of the Ebola epidemic is felt in all circles of the society. Fear of contamination has led to people not wanting to interact with others. Health care systems have virtually collapsed while airlines, investors, contractors and citizens have fled the affected countries and prices of basic commodities and medical supplies are increasing.

However, Ebola has also introduced the good practice of hygiene which is common in the three most affected countries, and in Guinea, it has led to a zero recorded case of Cholera in the last year, contrary to previous years.
“We wash our hands frequently with soap and this diluted water, and make sure everyone does so frequently,” said a community leader, whose community benefitted from buckets and disinfectants donated by SOS Children’s Villages Liberia.

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