DAKAR (AFP) – Thousands of children who have lost parents to the west African Ebola epidemic risk are being shunned by frightened and suspicious relatives, the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.
The outbreak has claimed more than 3,000 lives this year in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and UNICEF estimates around 3,700 children have lost at least one parent – with the number expected to double by mid-October.
“Ebola is turning a basic human reaction like comforting a sick child into a potential death sentence,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s regional director for west and central Africa, said in a statement.
In west African society, bereaved children are usually taken in by a member of the extended family.
But UNICEF says relatives in some communities are rejecting the offspring of victims of Ebola – which spreads through contact with infected body fluids – because “the fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties”.