At least 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have lost one or both their parents to the deadly Ebola virus disease which has caused 3,100 deaths in West Africa, according to updated Unicef estimates released Tuesday.
A Unicef official warned that the epidemic has intensified in recent weeks and the number of Ebola orphans could double between now and mid-October.
“We know that the numbers we have are only the tip of the iceberg,” said Dakar Manuel Fontaine, Unicef regional director for West Africa, in a teleconference.
One of the main problems faced by these children, he said, was the possibility that they would not be taken in and cared for by relatives who feared the youngsters might have become infected with the disease for which there is no known cure.
He pointed out that it was rare in Africa for extended families to refuse to care for orphaned children, an indication of how strong is the fear that overshadows the stricken region.
“We see some relatives or neighbours feed them, but few people want to take them in,” Fontaine noted.
Under these circumstances, the Unicef is attempting to build housing for the orphans, where Ebola victims who have survived the virus could care for them.
Like the orphaned children, Ebola survivors are often stigmatised and made unwelcome in their communities, despite the fact that they cannot spread the virus further unless they come in contact with it all over again.
Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are proposing that these survivors help care for the orphans and work in health centres, provided they meet the same standards of protection for a non-infected person, and can help with spreading awareness.
Ebola has infected 6,553 people in the six months following the outbreak of the biggest epidemic of this disease ever recorded since the virus was first discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).
According to data provided by Unicef Tuesday,more than 3,100 people have died from the epidemic, and 15 percent of them were children under the age of 15.
On Tuesday, the United Nations said that it has received $254 million of the total of $987 million it has requested for the global fight against Ebola.