Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.
Ebola cases are starting to fall in Gueckedou, Guinea, as health messages make an impact, blogs Plan Programme Unit Manager, Gbaka Sandouno.
27 September 2014: The current situation in Gueckedou is not as alarming as it was 2 months ago. Out of the 49 Ebola confirmed patients presently at the treatment centre here, there are only 5 cases from Gueckedou, 39 from Macenta, 2 from Nzerekore, 2 from Kérouané and 1 from Beyla.
In Gueckedou, the cases are from 2 main communities – a few months ago 9 out of the 10 main communities were severely affected by Ebola. We are grateful to say that the situation is subsiding.
Youth group power
In fact, even the main challenges we were facing, such as hostilities from villagers, and their doubts over the existence of the virus, have been solved. Religious leaders, women’s associations and youth groups got involved, and have all helped in raising awareness about the virus.
Now, people are scared of catching Ebola. The proof is that all the usual handshaking, marriage ceremonies, intensive market attendance and social gatherings - which used to be part of life here - are now considerably reduced.
Whoever gets ill now in any part of Gueckedou, rural or urban, is left alone until the specialised health worker comes to take him or her to the nearest health centre. The Ebola hotline number 115, on a green card, is given to everyone close by, as soon as such a case is noted.
On the streets, life is relatively normal, although economic activities have been reduced due to the closure of the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the limitations on movement of people from one community to the other.
Stores, garages and offices are operating relatively well. Besides hawkers, marketeers and other traders, you also see traffic running normally.
But children are affected, either by being infected, losing parents or being traced as contacts. The fragile food security provoked by Ebola is also having a negative effect on children, as is the postponement of their school classes.
Recovering from Ebola
I attend meetings every morning with Ebola-cured patients. I have not met all of them, but I know that the recovered patients of Gueckedou - about 42 now - have formed an association. The president of the association, who was the first patient to recover from the virus, is called Mr Saa Sabas Temessadouno.
These recovered patients play such an important role in convincing those who did not believe in the existence of Ebola that it does exist. Of course, they also convince the majority who think Ebola has no cure that they can recover from it. They are living proof that people can survive from Ebola!
The group has been doing local radio campaigns telling how they were infected, then how they were taken to the Ebola treatment centre and have survived. Because of this, a lot of Ebola patients now declare themselves and are willing to be at the centre, and we are noting a considerable number of patients who are recovering.
At the beginning, I was very careful about meeting Ebola patients, and very worried about the outcome, but due to information and training obtained on what Ebola is and how to avoid it, I feel that Ebola can be contained. The threat can be won, especially if the population as a whole works together.
Steps are being taken to prevent people from catching the virus. Training sessions organised by religious people, community leaders, teachers and staff of various international non-governmental organisations on Ebola, as well as intensive awareness-raising carried out through local radio, civil society organisations, children and youth groups - are all helping people to avoid catching the disease.
Taps and washing facilities installed in every public and some private areas are also helping. Avoiding traditional practices relating to burials, social gatherings and social movement are helping as well.
Health messages are getting through
In Gueckedou as a whole, every village has been reached as part of awareness-raising work and messages are being passed on to people all the time.
Health workers are now working closely with local authorities and all are now welcomed by the villagers. Even the hygiene kits that were rejected a few months back by villagers are now being requested by the same people!
It’s worth mentioning that although this situation has improved here in Gueckedou, in other prefectures like Macenta and Nzerekore, it remains a huge challenge.
From giving institutional support to the health authorities to raising awareness through radio or civil society, Plan International is actively involved in anti-Ebola efforts.
We are providing hand washing facilities in public places and helping to trace contacts, and helping to provide the necessary funds to make things happen.
Please support Plan’s emergency Ebola appeal
Read more about Plan’s work in Guinea
26 September 2014: This week in New York, Plan International announced its part in a groundbreaking effort spearheaded by The Clinton Global Foundation’s ‘No Ceilings’ Initiative and the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution.
This concerted effort, entitled Girls CHARGE (Collaborative Harnessing Ambition and Resources for Global Education), brings together more than 20 organisations that are dedicating their expertise, resources and broad-based reach to ensure that millions of girls across the world are able to transition into and complete secondary education in the next 5 years.
Getting girls into secondary education
The focus of this initiative on secondary education is unique and an important departure from focusing solely on primary education. Understanding and supporting girls to make this transition from primary to secondary education lies at the heart of Plan’s global Because I am a Girl campaign.
We welcome therefore the leadership of former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard on girls’ education, particularly highlighting the issues currently denying millions of adolescent girls around the world their right to an education.
For girls to go to and stay in school and reach their full potential, schools must offer both a safe learning environment and a rich learning experience. And this must span a minimum of 9 years, providing girls with a strong foundation from which they can transition into tertiary or higher education.
Yet one of the biggest and most intractable challenges girls face in school is gender-based violence. In fact, research shows that the levels of violence in schools, from peers and teachers, can be much higher than they are in wider society.
Schools are meant to be safe havens for children where they are supported and nurtured, where their minds are expanded and their passions ignited. And yet in many parts of the world, school can be a place to fear.
Supporting 150,000 girls in school
That is why Plan International has joined forces with the Clinton Global Initiative Girl CHARGE commitment. Over the next 5 years Plan will support 150,000 girls in 785 schools in South East Asia to create a learning environment free from school-related gender-based violence where girls and boys are free to learn and play.
The Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools programme aims to develop a zero tolerance approach in schools to all forms of violence and ensure these schools can become models of success that will be admired and eventually replicated by other countries in the region.
We know what is possible when the rights of girls are truly protected. This commitment raises the ambition of what we can do together to make that a reality for all girls.
Join Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign
Days after Sierra Leone enforced a 3-day curfew to fight the Ebola outbreak, Kamanda - one of Plan’s global youth advisory members – reflects on the impact it’s had on people living in his community in the north of the country.
From 19 to 21 September in Sierra Leone, we had to stay inside our homes; to sit and pray with our families for relief from the Ebola outbreak.
Nobody could move from one street to the other, with the exception of the response officials, and volunteers and health personnel educating residents about how to stop this deadly pestilence from eating into the fabric of our dear and beloved developing country.
Imprisoned at home
You can’t imagine how difficult it is to sit and lie down in one place without moving from your house, street or community. This is really 3 days imprisonment but crucial in saving the lives of residents of this country from the agony of Ebola.
My family of 27 sat at home listening to radio programmes, ate food (though there was little), prayed, played cards and sometimes watched movies using the computer given to me by Plan. On the third day, health workers came to tell us about signs and symptoms, prevention and control of Ebola - and soap was given to us for frequent washing of hands.
In some villages, people took to their heels into the bush. Some of my family in their village - my mum, step-mums and brothers - ran into the bush because they were misinformed that health officials would come to inject them, put the Ebola virus in their blood, and take away sick people to mix them with Ebola infected people.
But when they called me on the mobile, I allayed their fears by explaining to them the essence of the 3 days and what is expected of them towards combating the pestilence.
Hunger and thirst
As a journalist of our local radio station, Radio Bankasoka, a colleague and I were assigned to monitor what happened over the 3 days in the district.
People adhered to the President of Sierra Leone’s declaration that they should stay at home. But many were not happy because they were not guaranteed food or water. Many poor families went through all 3 days hungry and thirsty.
Even in the absence of Ebola, affording a meal a day is difficult for poor, extended families, let alone for 3 consecutive days. Household heads that were suspected of having Ebola were held and quarantined.
The sharpest thing that pricks my heart now is that children, especially those whose parents are victims, are suffering with no support. For example, in Gbom Samba community, 3 children lost their parents. In other communities, you could see children lie down on the ground hopelessly as a result of hunger.
Hospitals are empty
Tears ran from my eyes when I heard the report from my local radio station about 35 people dying of Ebola within the district. What could happen in a month, a year? It’s really awful.
People have abandoned the health centres with the fear that they will be given the Ebola virus and perceived as Ebola victims. They have lost confidence in the local health personnel. Even pregnant women and mothers of children under-5 no longer visit health centres. The government hospitals and other health centres are empty.
As of now, 81 houses have been quarantined in my district but security measures for the quarantined homes and treatment and holding centres are not strong.
For example in Borrp community, only 1 military person and 1 police officer are securing 5 quarantined houses of 31 people. I witnessed this in one of the chiefdoms in my district, and interviewed the health officer in charge.
Food is scarce in quarantined homes and treatment centres. Suspected Ebola victims continue to escape from these homes or centres spreading the disease countrywide.
An Ebola victim who escaped from a detention centre yesterday night explained to my colleague, while eating biscuits hungrily: “Food is not given to me since I was put into that place and I’m hungry; I need food right now.”
No one dared to touch him. The authorities were called, but the victim took to his heels and went into hiding. This is risky.
What will happen next?
Many suspected cases and Ebola victims have been traced, held and quarantined. I’m hoping there will be an absolute decrease of this deadly pestilence within the next 21 days and give us some freedom.
But I expect more deaths in treatment and holding centres and quarantined homes because victims of Ebola and suspected cases get no or hardly any medical attention and little or no food.
Children and poor people will continue to die of hunger and Ebola because they are vulnerable at this point in time.
We need foreign technical experts on Ebola brought into the treatment and holding centres,as residents no longer have trust in the local health personnel and have abandoned the hospitals.
People like me can help. Youth groups should be supported to embark on campaigns through radio and social media for people, especially pregnant women and mothers of children under-5, to visit health centres again.
Young people and children see what is happening in a different way - we understand our rights and the responsibilities of duty bearers and are ready to hold them to account.
Support Plan’s emergency Ebola appeal
Learn more about Kamanda and his role on Plan’s Global Youth Advisory panel
23 September 2014: I am Scottish, but because I live in England, I did not get to vote in the recent referendum on independence for Scotland. But you know who did? Everyone over the age of 16 years who does live in Scotland.
Whatever their view, they were able to voice their opinion and they were listened to. However, giving young people a voice is not something that happens across the world and that is something Plan International is trying to change with our youth advocacy toolkit.
Since we launched the toolkit, it has been received better than we ever expected. It’s been so popular that children and young people want a new way to share it more broadly. To address this we have developed a short animated film, which covers the main lessons from the toolkit.
Up For School
On Monday, 22 September, young people held a rally in New York, supported by A World At School, while the world’s leaders were in the city for the United Nations General Assembly. They held the rally to call on leaders to provide quality education to all children around the world.
With 65 million girls still out of primary and lower secondary school, we need to work with the young people to put pressure on governments and see some serious change.
We are launching this film in solidarity with the rally and the broader youth movement for education. We want to help this grow in size and strength and as a result see millions more children going to school.
Join us in supporting them and share the film as widely as you can.
And join the young people by signing their new petition.
They are #UpForSchool - are you?
As the world looks beyond the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, our 1 billion young people have a key role to play, blogs Plan's Amanda Lundy.
22 September 2014: If you printed all of the reports, briefings, memos, key messages, responses, consultations, op-eds, haikus, and tweets that include the phrase ‘post-2015’, it would reach to the moon and back.
I’ll admit, even I am beginning to feel a little queasy at the phrase, and I’ve been contributing to this sustainable development post-2015 debate for years now. My fingers seem to be irrevocably programmed to type ‘-2015’ after ‘post’.
But for all of these pages and pages, there’s disproportionately little written on the ‘how’ questions around the post-2015 agenda. For every 10 papers on which goals, targets, or indicators should be included in the framework (and Plan has 7 great ones!), there only seems to be one that talks about means of implementation, monitoring, financing, or accountability.
This is beginning to shift as the work of the High-Level Political Forum, the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, and the Independent Expert Advisory Group on Data Revolution for Sustainable Development all gain momentum.
1 billion young partners
During this week's United Nations General Assembly, Plan International is launching the publication 'Young people's engagement in strengthening accountability for the post-2015 agenda'. The report follows this 'how' trend, but it looks at an often-overlooked area: the power of young people in holding governments to account for their commitments.
Co-authored by Plan and the Overseas Development Institute in collaboration with the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, this briefing paper argues that the world’s 1 billion young people aged 15-24 are critical partners in the quest for sustainable development over the next 15 years.
This is not only because of the size of the ‘youth bulge’ or because young people have a right to participate in decision-making that affects them; it’s also because their involvement in accountability mechanisms, such as social accountability processes laid out in the briefing, can lead to stronger development outcomes overall.
5 key principles
The paper argues that 5 principles are key for any post-2015 accountability processes to ensure young people’s involvement: meaningful participation and inclusive, accessible, collaborative, and responsive mechanisms.
It also argues that, due to the nature of international agreements like the post-2015 framework, accountability is largely absent at an international level; mechanisms, where they do exist, are non-binding, voluntary, and often do not facilitate meaningful inputs from civil society, including young people.
We state that a continuum of accountability for the post-2015 framework – from the local to the international – should be grounded at the local and national levels: in parliaments, school councils, and ombudspersons, where civil society’s engagement, and young people’s especially, can be most directly guaranteed and responded to. These should form the foundation of accountability for post-2015 commitments so that governments can respond to the needs and rights of their citizens, especially young people.
Better outcomes for all
One fifth of the world’s population are aged between 15-24 – they are at a critical point in their lives and the ability of the post-2015 framework to deliver on their needs and rights and to respond to their concerns is an indicator for success for the entire framework.
An inclusive, accessible, collaborative, and responsive continuum of accountability that ensures meaningful participation from young people at all levels can help to ensure a stronger framework with better outcomes for all.
Fundamentally, a post-2015 framework is about the future. Who could be a better partner – to help us define what we want and to hold us to those promises – than the young people who will have to live with the successes and failures?
Learn about Plan’s global child and youth participation work
As Sierra Leone goes into national lockdown for 3 days to fight the Ebola outbreak, Kamanda – one of Plan’s global youth advisory members – who lives in the north of the country, describes the impact on his family and community.
September 2014: The Ebola outbreak has overcome and killed a lot of people. Since it was first declared an emergency, many people have become victims, and there is still an increase in Ebola now.
Because it has become so prevalent, the president has decided to put in place a 3-day lockdown from 19 to 22 September to search for people who are sick.
They need to find all the people who are hidden, who have the disease, and the government will campaign to find the people who are sick. The trouble is that sick people have been refused entry by the hospitals, and now are resistant to being found. They are hiding because they prefer to be sick at home.
The campaigners will move through the city and through the villages and towns to find the people who are sick. There is only 1 district now out of 12 that doesn’t have the virus. Many individual houses have been quarantined, and people are not allowed to go out.
Poor struggling to find food
It is affecting everyone, but particularly the poor. We are having difficulty getting enough food, the schools are all shut down, and there are no classes and no lessons.
Some children whose parents have died from Ebola are facing obstacles - including food, shelter, clothing and emotional support. Some people have abandoned the hospitals because they have been misinformed that if they are tested that their blood will be mixed with those who have the virus and they may be perceived as Ebola victims and isolated.
The poor and those who have been quarantined are suffering because food supplies are not getting through to them. Water is also not reaching them. Medical supplies are not reaching them. They also cannot afford to buy extra food for the lockdown.
27 people in my house
As we prepare for the lockdown, people are going to the banks to get their salaries, to try to stock up on food. But the trouble is that the poor people cannot do this. I come from a poor family, and I am staying with my uncle, who normally trades in Freetown, but he has had to stop.
People can die like this. People are wondering how to get food for 3 days, when they have no money up front; even those people who have money are struggling now because food is scarce and prices have shot up.
In my house there will be 27 people all in together for 3 days. I don’t know what we are going to do with our time, we will reflect and pray for this disease to be out of our country.
My uncle left this morning at 5am for Freetown to try to sort things out and get things adjusted for the 3 days. He will buy rice and other foods.
It is also very difficult for my people who live in the villages – I am really worried about my mum and dad because they have problems getting food. At the moment, they are staying a home; they have nowhere to buy food. My dad is sick – he has appendicitis – and we have no way of helping him. I’ve been trying to call them, but I can’t get through.
At first there was a lot of misinformation about Ebola. There are also a lot of scare stories. People in the villages thought the people coming to give information were coming to infect them and kill them, so they ran away. Lots of people ran away.
Now, during the lockdown, we fear that a lot of people will try to escape, and this will make things worse. I am scared my father will go into hiding in the bush, and he is very sick.
I feel afraid. It’s a very frightening situation. Yes, I feel afraid about what will happen in Sierra Leone as a result of this virus.
Plan teams are fighting the Ebola outbreak across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Please donate to Plan’s emergency Ebola appeal
Read Plan’s press release on Ebola lockdown in Sierra Leone
Learn more about Kamanda and his role on Plan’s Global Youth Advisory panel
As war and conflict continue to make headlines across the world, more and more children are being exposed to distressing scenes through the media. Talking about it can help minimise their stress, blogs Plan International Australia’s Senior Child Rights Specialist, Sophie Shugg.
26 August 2014: How do you talk with your kids when they ask you the tough questions about war and conflict? How can you minimise the stress and the confusion they feel when they see images and scenes they may be too young to understand?
Whether it's Gaza, Syria, Iraq or the Ukraine, young children are witnessing images and scenes that horrify even the most hardened war correspondent. And in the age of rolling news coverage and the internet, they can be potentially exposed to more and more than we ever experienced as children. And just to make these images and scenes all the more distressing and confusing for kids, they all too often feature children tragically caught up in war and conflicts they can never control.
Should you shield kids from the news?
Ultimately, it's your choice as a parent. But consider this: even if you were to throw away your TV, there's every chance your children will see these moments on other TVs, be it at a shopping centre, at their friends’ places or in a relative's home. And even if they don’t, they can still hear about war from their friends, or see photos on the front pages as they walk past the newsagent.
Create an environment in which children can speak freely
Children always need to feel safe, and never more so than when they are talking about events and issues that concern them. So find a time and a place where they feel comfortable and secure, in order to talk to them about their fears and concerns.
Let children guide the conversation
What worries your kids about scenes of war and conflict may surprise you. So let them take the lead in your conversation. This will ensure their concerns are addressed, and not just your assumptions.
Look for non-verbal signs
Children will not always raise their concerns with you directly. So look for the signs that they are feeling distressed. Do they turn away from the television when they fear the news is about to come on? Do they play act scenes of fighting or conflict with their friends? Do they draw pictures that reflect what they are seeing on TV? If so, you may need to bring up the subject and ease their worries.
Be as open as you can
No one expects you to explain the genesis of complex conflicts like a professor of politics, least of all your children. Nor do you need to go into excruciating detail on injury or death. But children are often smarter than you think, and they will gain a sense of comfort if you talk openly. And it’s OK to admit you don’t understand the reasons for war.
Reassure your children
Make sure your children understand that there is no threat of war or conflict where you are. But don’t dismiss their concerns for others – your children are learning empathy and compassion, and that’s to be encouraged.
Do something about it!
Children will often want to do more than just talk about conflict, they may want to take action. Let your children know that they can support communities, whether that’s through raising awareness or fundraising to help organisations responding to conflict.
Children across the world are caught up in conflict. You can help by making a donation to one of Plan's emeregncy appeals.
Download the How to talk to your kids about war guide from Plan International Australia's website.
Consider this - 24 hours from when you are reading this piece, approximately 24,000 more children will have died worldwide from preventable diseases. This is an everyday reality, but these deaths can be stopped with access to clean water, healthcare, immunisation, safety and education.
When I am asked what inspired me to get involved in humanitarian work, I ask myself if there is any choice when faced with this reality.
Our news headlines are currently dominated by humanitarian crises - the Ebola outbreak; the conflict in Iraq; the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel; the lingering war and food crisis in South Sudan that is threatening the lives of over 4 million people.
Brave people, selfless volunteers
The bravest people in the world are not those who climb Mount Everest, Formula 1 drivers or the armed guards protecting presidential palaces. I believe that the bravest people today are the frontline workers, providing life-saving humanitarian assistance.
Take, for instance, the health workers and the undertakers battling the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. They know the huge risk of contracting the deadly disease, which kills up to 90% of its victims. The current outbreak has claimed 1,145 lives, though reports indicate these numbers could be higher.
It's not just the threat of the highly infectious virus they have to battle. Health workers and undertakers have all come under attack. The fact that dead bodies are a source of infection has put a stop to burials in usual places.
More than 160 health workers are reported to have been infected, half of who have died. Yet, there has been an armed attack on the patient unit care in Liberia. The outbreak is taking a heavy toll on the frontline workers - both physically and emotionally.
Getting our priorities right
In a world characterised by violence and human suffering, humanitarian work can only be built on the strong foundations of humanitarian values and principles. We talk in our reports, proposals and budgets of the millions in need, but these are not just statistics - these are real people like you and I, with names, relations and emotions. It is vital to recognise the rights of the people humanitarian agencies serve, as expressed in the Humanitarian Charter*.
There are 51 million displaced people in the world right now. But this does not necessarily mean that public engagement with these issues is higher than before. Last year, the global arms expenditure was US $1.75 trillion (i.e. $1,750 billion). A small portion of this money is sufficient to provide clean water, healthcare, education and shelter for all people on earth, and provide humanitarian assistance in all disasters and conflicts.
Earlier this year, during a visit to a Plan child-friendly space in South Sudan in the peak of the armed conflict, 2 children caught my attention - a case in point demonstrating why humanitarian work is so crucial and the difference it makes.
In a group of 100 children, Madiha, 9, and Lina, 4, stood out. It was not their unusual silence that caught my attention, but the way they frequently hugged each other, seemingly involuntarily.
A few days earlier they both witnessed the execution of their parents in Jonglei before fleeing to relative safety. Madiha's first instinct was to protect Lina. As they made their escape, this 9-year-old child was transformed into a parent to her 4-year-old sister, leaving her childhood behind.
The last few months have been exceptionally busy for the humanitarian aid workers. We were already stretched thin with our ongoing work responding to the conflict and food crisis in South Sudan, violence and displacement in Central African Republic, humanitarian fallout of the crisis in Syria and the unfinished recovery work in the Philippines' typhoon-impacted areas and Darfur.
For every major disaster reported, there are several unreported crises. Add to this the flare-up of Ebola, the fallout of the conflict in Gaza and Israel and the displacement in Iraq - all unfolding simultaneously.
This means, at work, you move from one crisis to the other during the day. In such circumstances a normal day could be 24/7 - especially if you are doing media interviews and coordinating with aid workers on ground.
It also means reserving a good portion of this time to listen to colleagues who are on the frontline - their anxieties, concerns and aspirations.
But humanitarian work often produces instant results - and that makes you get back to work 10 minutes early the next day.
World Humanitarian Day is marked every year on 19 August to recognise those who face danger and adversity in order to help others.
Find out more about Plan's global emergencies work
* Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
12 August 2014: The current Ebola outbreak, the most severe and complex in history, is now making its impact felt worldwide.
The deadly disease has killed over 960 people so far in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Seven additional West African countries (Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger) are on alert.
Communities in West Africa have witnessed horrific scenes of infected people dying with symptoms of severe bleeding. Suspected case or cases under medical care are now in Africa, Europe and North America.
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria have declared Ebola as national emergencies. The military has been deployed in an attempt to quarantine people and stop their movements and therefore the spread of the disease. These are not scenes from fictional Hollywood movies such as ‘Outbreak’ or ‘Contagion’ - this disaster is unfolding in real time.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak an international public health emergency demanding an “extraordinary” response.We are in a situation where the deadly outbreak is threatening to kill more people in West Africa and beyond. What is needed now is not a speculative prediction, but collective global action to invent Ebola’s future.
This is a decisive moment in the battle against Ebola. Time is running out fast, millions of lives are at stake and the world needs to act now. Investing in public health systems and disaster preparedness measures is the best way to invent the future trajectory of the Ebola outbreak.
No vaccine or cure
Ebola is one of the world’s most virulent diseases and it spreads through contact with an infected person's bodily fluids. Initial symptoms are the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat.
Such common symptoms make it hard to detect Ebola easily. There is no vaccine or cure and Ebola kills up to 90% of those infected, making it a ‘doctor’s nightmare’.
Complementary care such as rehydration can help to save lives in some instances. Stopping the spread, through public health promotion and better awareness, is the best way to reduce infection rates and reduce deaths.
Ebola – one-step ahead
The easy movement of people across porous borders between countries; the initial gross under estimates about the ability of the disease to spread; the lack of information; risky burial practices and above all weak public health systems and poverty have all contributed to Ebola’s steady spread.
Over 160 health workers are reported to have been infected, half of whom have died. Rumours are also rife on the ground making an already challenging response even more complicated. In some cases, local mobs have attacked health workers forcing emergency centres to close.
Until now, Ebola has been one-step ahead of the response and unfortunately, it is not showing any immediate signs of slowing down.
The WHO declaration is expected to bring much needed public health specialists and financial resources to fight the crisis in the impacted countries. The current outbreak is an unprecedented crisis with global dimensions - it is both the longest and largest outbreak in terms of deaths, infected cases and the number of countries affected.
In addition to precious lives, psychological and economic impacts can be catastrophic. The World Bank estimates that the outbreak will reduce economic growth in Guinea, where the outbreak originated, from 4.5% to 3.5% this year.
Local health workers and aid agencies such as Plan International, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and International Medical Corps have been on the frontline, fighting a battle with limited resources and increasing challenges.
Turning the tide of this deadly disease is now the collective responsibility of the world. Better and humane care for those that are infected as well as building strong public health systems are fundamental - not only to deal with this outbreak, but also to respond to future shocks.
The next phase
Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified before the US government’s senate committee last week. He warned that it will be a ‘long and hard fight’.
He described a worrying picture which he called a best case scenario: it will take at least 3 to 6 months to end the outbreak. “If you leave behind even a single burning ember, it’s like a forest fire,” he said. “It flares back up.”
To invent the future of this outbreak, rather than just to make a prediction, here are the first steps that need to be taken.
- Intensify care and support (including emotional care) for infected people, their families, health workers and caregivers through additional isolation care and support units across the impacted countries.
- Reach out to the most vulnerable people, such as children and women, who are often in far-flung remote pockets. This step must be complemented by reassurances to save lives of those who come forward to such healthcare units, preferably through appeals by heads of nations and local leaders. There are distressing reports of infected people being left in the streets to die for fear of contamination.
- While the 4 West African countries with confirmed cases should be the first priority, it is time to shift gears and step up surveillance and public health promotion in the other 7 countries that are on alert.
- The outbreak has exposed the underbelly of weak health infrastructure in the impacted countries on alert. Most of them are at the bottom of the human development index and have some of the weakest public health systems in the world. Conflict destroyed most of the healthcare facilities in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Both countries have approximately 1 doctor per 35,000 to 40,000 people. WHO recommends 1 doctor for every 10,000 people.
- Rich nations and emerging economies need to be generous and deploy all possible resources to intensify the battle against Ebola. Despite the recent injection of funds by the WHO, the World Bank and European Commission, the response has been massively underfunded. It is in the best interest of the world to intensify the battle against Ebola and stop its spread.
- Neglected tropical diseases continue to cause significant death and health complications in the developing world. Yet, only a tiny portion of the total funds for research globally is spend for diseases such as Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV. In 2012, an estimated 627,000 malaria deaths was recorded worldwide - 90% occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and 77% in children under 5 years of age. Investments are needed for research and to develop cures.
The outbreak is a wake-up call to build strong public health systems, including disease surveillance measures; early warning systems and improved epidemic preparedness measures.
Well prepared health workers can fight not just the Ebola outbreak, but other epidemics and disasters too. Investing in public health systems and disaster preparedness measures is the best way to invent the future trajectory of the Ebola outbreak.
Support Plan's Ebola emergency appeal
A super group of 8 young people is ensuring that youth have their say in Plan’s work worldwide – and the benefits will be incredible, blogs Plan youth engagement officer, Jo Dempster.
12 August 2014, International Youth Day:
It’s 7am in El Salvador
Jacinto was up at 6 to take the bus 3 miles to reach his local Plan office. He logs on and begins the call using Google Translate while he waits for his supporting staff member. “Hola!” “Hola!” replies the group.
It’s 9am in the USA
Sara is skyping in on her mobile on her way to school.
Every other Tuesday the Global Youth Advisory Panel meet via Skype to discuss all matters relating to the roll out of Plan’s global strategy on engaging young people in internal decision-making.
Despite the different time zones, dodgy internet connections, language barriers and travel difficulties, this inspirational group of 8 young people come together every 2 weeks to support each other, share learning from their countries, help to develop organisational tools and guidance, and hold me to account.
It’s 1pm in Sierra Leone
After several failed attempts to connect on Skype we call Kamanda in on his cell phone.
“Sorry, the internet’s down and I’m in the middle of a workshop. The Port Loko youth advisory panel are devising a play about the dangers of Ebola; we’re taking it out to schools and communities next week,” he says.
It’s 2pm in the UK
Simone is on her gap year and takes her lunch break from the sandwich shop she works in, timing it so she can join the call.
This incredibly motivated and committed group of young people have played a central role in the development of Plan’s youth engagement in decision-making strategy and continue to provide unique insights on the development of ‘how to’ guidance.
The group discuss everything from how many hours a week is realistic for young people to volunteer for Plan to what tools Plan’s country management teams need in order to open up their decision-making spaces.
Plan has to lead by example. In our post-Millennium Development Goal positioning we are pushing for greater youth participation in the new development framework. We recognise that whilst 43% of the world’s population is under the age of 25, their thoughts and concerns have often gone unheard by national and global leaders.
We believe that young people have the right to be heard in development debates and that they have bright, creative ideas about how to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges.
Internally, Plan makes decisions on a daily basis that directly affect the lives of millions of young people and we are slowly opening up these decision-making spaces to ensure we support their right to participate. Equally importantly, we believe that their opinions will help us to make better decisions about how we spend our resources.
This is about organisational transformation. So while we know it will take time and it will take resources, the benefits for the organisation and for the young people will be incredible.
It’s 3pm in Sweden and Norway
“So, what do you guys think about the list I sent for the youth trustee pack?” says Tova. “Can we include something about training the adults on speaking in accessible language?” says Frida. Both Tova and Frida are trustees of Plan.
It’s 4pm in Uganda
Frank has cycled 2 miles to Plan’s programme unit in Kamuli to join the call. There seems to be a chicken having a party in the background.
Like so many of the young people Plan works with, Frank had a challenging upbringing, leaving school at 14 to support his brothers and sisters after his parents died. Frank is back in school and so proud to be representing Plan’s East and Southern Africa region on the Global Youth Advisory Panel. He was selected by his peers and, like his global peers, he brings that raw perspective founded in real-life experience.
The Global Youth Advisory Panel is part of a youth engagement movement inspiring change across the organisation. There are now 24 national panels directly engaging in Plan's governance, and we are working towards the ambitious target of all offices having a panel by 2020.
The impact of youth engagement can be felt from the very grassroots level of the organisation right up to Plan's highest decision-making body, the Members' Assembly, where we now have 2 seats for youth observers.
I feel very privileged to call the members of the global panel my colleagues – they are the reason I joined Plan. We're showing that we're an organisation that believes in putting children and young people at the heart of what we do; that we're ready to be challenged by the young people we aim to serve.
It’s nearly 10pm in Indonesia
Having enthused the group about the fantastic progress being made with Plan Indonesia’s new national youth advisory panel; Agung is struggling to keep his eyes open and I am mindful of time.
So, until next time...adios, and Happy International Youth Day!
International Youth Day is celebrated across the world every 12 August.
Find out more about Plan's Global Youth Advisory Panel