New York - The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has taken a toll on the children living in the region, with millions of them being affected by indirect consequences of the disease, a UN Children's Fund official warned on Monday.
Peter Salama, the global Ebola emergency co-ordinator for Unicef, said that while children account for one-fifth of the confirmed 14 000 Ebola cases, many more suffer the indirect consequences through losing parents, stigmatisation, school cancellations and experiencing a general disruption in their daily lives.
"Death is all around them," Salama said. "Life as they knew it has simply been turned upside down."
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More than 4 000 children have been orphaned by the epidemic, and because of the stigma surrounding Ebola, these children are often rejected by their extended families.
In other cases, children who have survived the virus are waiting in quarantine centers not knowing if their parents' are still alive.
More than five million children out of school
Salama said Unicef was working to place orphans and child survivors with their relatives, and has even developed a programme to seek out adult Ebola-survivors, who also experience stigmatisation and understand the disease, to help these vulnerable children.
In the three worst-affected countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, more than five million children have also been out of school because of Ebola and are often not even allowed to play outside for fear of contracting the disease.
"I don't think we can in any way, shape or form overestimate the psychosocial impact of the crisis on children in affected countries," Salama said.
He also warned that with the collapse of the health systems in the countries, immunization services have dropped dramatically. In the case of Liberia, there has been a 50-per-cent decrease in vaccinations.
According to preliminary data - because even information collection has been disrupted by Ebola - there has been a rise in malaria cases.
The current Ebola outbreak has killed more than 5 000 people.