Schools are closed, people aren’t able to farm or travel, children are being discouraged from playing with their friends, and people who have lost relatives from Ebola disease are being shunned.
Those are some of the conditions faced by people living in the epicenters of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, said aid workers for Richmond-based ChildFund International.
ChildFund employees Billy Abimbilla and Davidson Jonah are in Richmond to attend ChildFund planning sessions. Both have seen the epidemic’s ravages up close in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
“The situation is dire. Not enough is being done,” said Abimbilla, national director for ChildFund programs/services in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“The countries (that) are affected by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa are all emerging from war situations and with very weak economies, very weak health infrastructures,” he said.
“The outbreak of this disease has further stressed, and in some cases even collapsed, the health delivery system so these countries are unable to cope with the situation now as it is going from bad to worse.”
The Ebola virus outbreak has killed almost half — 2,288 — of the 4,269 people diagnosed with or suspected of having the infection, according to World Health Organization numbers.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone all have “widespread and intense” transmission of the virus, according to the WHO, while Nigeria and Senegal have a limited number of cases.
“Because we are child-focused, we are working in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare and UNICEF in looking at the issues as they affect children,” said Jonah, ChildFund field operations support director.
“In fact, there are so many issues around the stigmatization of those children who have lost their parents to Ebola. There is also lack of food for them. School is not on, so that is also creating problems. And you have a lot of orphans, children whose parents have died as a result of Ebola,” he said.
ChildFund International is a global child development and protection agency that does humanitarian work in 30 countries.
In late August, ChildFund and partners were able to get 15,000 pounds of emergency medical supplies donated by Proctor & Gamble delivered to Liberia. Working with local organizations, those supplies, which included survival gloves and infection-prevention items, were driven to communities.
“We also gave hygiene supplies and wound-care supplies, as well as non-contact thermometers,” Abimbilla said.
More is needed. The epidemic shows no signs of letting up. The Ebola virus appears to spread from contact with a sick person’s blood or body fluids, including urine, saliva, feces, vomit and semen. There have been Ebola outbreaks in the past, but world health officials say this is the deadliest ever.
After visiting the three most affected countries recently, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief Tom Frieden said last week that the window of opportunity for being able to control the outbreak was rapidly closing.
The outbreak does not pose a danger to the United States, federal health officials said.
As Jonah traveled through Africa, he said, he was stopped at multiple points, questioned about his health and had his temperature taken. Abimbilla said when he traveled to Ghana, he was called daily for 21 days by health officials there who queried him about his health. Symptoms of Ebola infection typically show up two to 21 days after someone has been infected.
Some Richmond-area people with family in Liberia also say that more needs to be done, and they are trying to raise money and collect medical supplies to send there.
“It’s worse than is being reported. People are not able to go to work and they are starving,” said the Rev. Calvin A. Birch, pastor of African Christian Community Church in Henrico County. He is leading a recently formed local group — Virginia in Action for Liberia Against Ebola. They have a supply drive today at the Short Pump Walmart.
Birch said he has six siblings and a daughter in Liberia.
“Everybody is afraid to go to the hospital. If you have hypertension or other conditions, those conditions are killing them because they are scared to go to the hospital,” Birch said.
“The outbreak is ahead of the human response.”