Ebola Orphans see Healthcare Workers as Boogeymen

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Children who have been turned into orphans as the result of the deadly Ebola outbreak in Liberia are not only confronted with the unfortunate reality of not seeing their parents for the rest of their lives, but also healthcare workers who must dress like the boogeyman in the stories they are often told.

The fight against Ebola requires a healthcare worker wearing lousy-colored personal protective equipment (PPE), whose absence and inadequate availability has cost a huge number of them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly a hundred healthcare workers—doctors, nurses, physician assistants and, among others, volunteers on burial teams—have succumbed to the virus in Liberia alone. This makes the wishes of children not to see those bogeymen futile.

Children growing up in Liberia see the bogeyman as their chief foe. There isn’t a childhood tale told without the weird, unsolicited and dreaded figure. He is said described in many forms; he does just one thing—he eats children.

It makes no mere coincidence that community people refer to healthcare workers dressed in PPEs as “Ebola ninja”, and UNICEF chief in Liberia, Sheldon Yett reckons that that it poses a challenge to those caring for needy orphans as the result of Ebola.

“I think that there are a number of things we need to keep in mind. One is that children are some 20 percent of the victims of the Ebola outbreak, but that’s direct victims. But there are also indirect victims too. Put yourself in the eye of a child: you are in a new community and you see these guys in these big, heavy spacesuits. They look like astronauts landing on the moon or on mars coming into communities. If I were a child, I’ll be afraid of Ebla ninjas.

“So we have to ensure that supports are also going to these kids, not only orphans.”

He said UNICEF was not taking such challenge to childhood in Liberia for lightly.

“We are working with the Ministry of [Health] and Social Welfare to ensure that there are social workers trained and are available in communities. We are working with the community as well to ensure that we have mental health professionals that can provide that kind of support.”
One group of people who are working with Ebola orphans are Ebola survivors themselves.

“Survivors play a very key role here. As you know, survivors themselves can’t get sick,” says Yett. “But survivors can provide that kind of human touch that is so important, that kind of binding that is so important. They are key ingredient to providing support to children.”

Such is exactly what Kpetermeni Meinu and eight other survivors are doing. They are catering for Ebola orphans at the Willing Heart Interim Care Center, supported by the UNICEF, Child Fund and the Liberian government. He and other survivors do not only bath the children, wash their clothes and give them hope; they also monitor them and watch for signs and symptoms of the deadly virus.

“We had 17 children. We sent five in the Ebola treatment unit and now we are left with 13,” Kpetermeni told Reuters in an early morning visit at the center Wednesday.

“There is a boy here named Anthony Sheriff. This identical child before entering this center he was afraid. He did not want to enter the center because whenever he sees anyone with a spray he thinks that they are going to kill him. He saw someone spraying his mother before going into the Ebola treatment unit (ETU) and his mother died. Someone sprayed his father before taken into the ETU and his father also died. So he now concludes that whenever he sees spray with anyone, they want to kill him.”

But it seemed that it was not only people wearing masks or sprayers little Anthony was afraid of. While Kpetermeni was explaining, he immediately fled the scene upon seeing the Reuters team with huge camera and other gadgets. Not even the effort of Kpertermeni and his female workmate in the interim care center could stop him from running as fast as his age could allow.