A THREE-MINUTE silence was held in Sierra Leone on Monday to mark the first anniversary of the end of the country’s outbreak of the Ebola virus, in which more than 4000 people died, and 12,000 were orphaned.
The Ebola-virus outbreak in 2014 was the most widespread in the history of the disease. It began in Guinea, before travelling to Liberia and Sierra Leone, where it raged for 18 months.
This Monday was one year from the date the World Health Organization declared the country free of the virus, although a small flare-up occurred again early this year.
The charity Street Child, which is working with orphans of the virus to help them stay in school, said that thousands were still at risk of sexual exploitation, or were leaving school early to care for younger siblings.
Janeba Kamara, aged 18, has to care for her five younger siblings after both her parents died. She had to give up her nurse training, and the young family was shunned by the local community because of their contact with the disease.
Ms Kamara said: “We struggle now for food. Sometimes, we can’t eat for two or three days. The pastor in our church tries to help us out. My younger siblings are still in school, but I have stopped my nursing qualification. I really want to continue for the next two years and become a nurse, but I cannot afford the fees.”
Street Child has helped nearly 6000 children orphaned by the Ebola virus to pay school fees to help them stay in education.
After a recent campaign, match-funded by the Department for International Development, the charity seeks to help another 20,000 children to go to school in post-Ebola Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The charity’s CEO, Tom Dannatt, said: “Whilst there has been some welcome recovery for many Ebola-impacted families, and thousands of orphans have been helped by Street Child and others, some of the most at-risk orphans are still in acute conditions.
“We should celebrate that the Ebola epidemic is over, but we must recognise that, for the most complex and vulnerable cases, the crisis certainly isn’t. In fact, in many ways, it is at its most dangerous, because international support and interest has largely moved on.”
Girls are particularly vulnerable. The UN estimates that, during the outbreak, teenage pregnancies increased by up to 65 per cent in some communities, where desperate girls exchanged sex for money to feed themselves and their families.
Churches across West Africa have agreed a strategy to support communities affected by the outbreak: a total of 11,000 people died in the region.
A meeting in September in Sierra Leone, funded by the mission agency USPG, was attended by the bishops and two church leaders from all six dioceses in Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to discuss a strategy for the next five years.
Davidson Solanki, of USPG, said: “Ebola had far-reaching effects in every part of the affected countries. With the workforce drastically reduced, and no investment in infrastructure for three years, there was a breakdown in government services, health-care provision, and the condition of roads and amenities; only now are local authorities starting to repair roads and bridges.
“With fewer people to work in the fields, farms have become barren, resulting in food shortages and inflated food prices. Families have lost income, children go hungry, and families are unable to meet basic needs.
“The Church was also hit. Congregations have been unable to increase their giving, and there is a shortage of clergy; so the Church has been struggling to support the people.”
Nevertheless, he said, the Church was at work supporting communities.
“In Sierra Leone, there is already support for children orphaned by Ebola: the Church is building a school for girls who became pregnant, and vocational training is being offered to young people to help improve livelihoods and prevent unwelcome economic migration.”