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Fighting The Ebola Outbreak: Why Children Are The Priority

Sep 29, 2014 at 10:29 AM Chime in now

Plan Canada

School children in Guinea learn how to protect themselves from Ebola.

By Dr.Tanjina Mirza, Plan Canada Vice President of International Programs

More than 3,000 people dead. At least 6,500 infected. And with no signs of abating, the death toll continues to climb. Statistics and projections paint a grim picture. The Ebola outbreak is growing exponentially and becoming a major humanitarian crisis with global implications.

Brave medical personnel, local officials, staff and volunteers are working tirelessly under the direction of governments and humanitarian organizations that are leading the response to the crisis. Plan International has had dedicated teams on the ground fighting the Ebola outbreak since March of this year. Here are five ways they are supporting the fight against Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
How Can It Be Prevented?

As with any health epidemic, but especially since no vaccine or cure for Ebola exists, prevention is the key to curbing the spread of the virus. To prevent transmission, Plan teams are working to disseminate accurate and accessible information encouraging people to hand wash regularly, avoid physical contact with infected patients and those who have died, avoid eating wild game, and to handle animals with protective gloves and clothing. Plan has been using all media available to them to ensure that these life-saving messages reach as many people as possible, including: radio broadcasts, posters, information leaflets, TV spots and even public theatre and walking from community-to-community with bullhorns.  

Information and awareness efforts must go hand-in-hand with adequate facilities and supplies. So, our response teams are also setting up hand washing stations at schools, health posts and other public facilities to ensure families are able to protect themselves, and supporting local health authorities with equipment, medical supplies, disinfectants and other essential items needed to fight the disease. 

Why We Need To Focus On Children
We know from years of experience that children are oftentimes hardest hit by humanitarian disasters and our staff is once again witnessing this in the current epidemic. As my colleague and Country Director for Plan Liberia, Koala Oumarou notes, “an increasing number of girls and boys have become separated from their caregivers, either due to death of parents or because children are sent off to extended family outside affected areas out of fear of contamination.”
Children are also suffering from fear, shock and trauma, as they are prevented from normal activities such as school and play and as they witness their communities fill with panic and fear. Many children are feeling the economic impact too, as livelihoods are disrupted and younger family members are being pushed into work such as selling palm oil or working in mines. This is why Plan is prioritizing its work with children, including providing emotional first aid and physical care, and working to protect them from exploitation and abuse.
Why We Need To Rely On Local Expertise
Fear and anxiety have spread across the affected communities, sometimes breeding misinformation and mistrust. The best way to design effective awareness programs and deliver information is by working closely with people from the very communities these efforts are designed to reach. This is why Plan is relying on its local staff who have been working in these communities for decades. They are not only trusted by community members, but also know the particular local contexts best, which is important for designing materials and tactics that resonate with the local population. And because the fight against Ebola requires all hands on deck, our core response teams have been providing training to additional local health workers and volunteers on effective infection control procedures.
Who Needs To Be Involved?
Given the large number of people affected, the geographical spread, and the fragility of the local health systems, fighting the outbreak requires a co-ordinated effort from all governments and humanitarian agencies. It is encouraging that a number of different groups have been responding to the crisis, but to maximize effective use of resources, they must work together to co-ordinate their activities. This is why 1) our strategies have been designed to complement local governments’ efforts, and 2) we have focused our efforts on areas where we have the most expertise such as public health information, material support and child protection.
Collaboration is also important when raising funds to fight the outbreak. In recognition of this, Plan has teamed up with other leading Canadian aid organizations part of the Humanitarian Coalition (Care, Oxfam, Oxfam Quebec, Save the Children) to launch a coordinated fundraising appeal.

What Can Canadians Do?

Canadians have been very generous in supporting the fight against Ebola. However, this deadly disease is still spreading, and spreading fast. World leaders and experts have all called for a swift, decisive and well-organized response. As a result, we are scaling up our efforts, but we need your help. You can contribute to Canadian efforts to save lives by making a donation today. Ebola is a deadly and terrifying illness, but together we can prevent new infections and save lives.

About Plan and the Because I am a Girl initiative
Founded in 1937, Plan is one of the world’s oldest and largest international development agencies, working in partnership with millions of people around the world to end global poverty. Not for profit, independent and inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Plan has only one agenda: to improve the lives of children. Because I am a Girl is Plan’s global initiative to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls – and everyone around them – out of poverty. Visit plancanada.ca and becauseiamagirl.ca for more information.

Read more:
The Deadly Ebola Virus: How Worried Should We Be?

Inventing A Way To Halt The Most Severe Ebola Outbreak In History

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