Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are battling the deadliest Ebola epidemic in recorded history. The World Health Organization* (WHO) reports that 4,033 people have died so far, with 8,399 probable or suspected cases. However in reality, this number could be much higher due to unreported cases.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that cases in Liberia are doubling every 15–20 days while those in Sierra Leone are doubling every 30–40 days. CDC also estimates that Liberia and Sierra Leone could see 1.4 million cases of Ebola within 3 months when under-reported cases are taken into account.
Unless it is brought under control the epidemic has the potential to spread widely across the region and worldwide, putting many more lives at risk.
Emerging food crisis puts children most at risk
Many children who have lost their parents to the Ebola epidemic have been ostracised, abandoned in the streets, without shelter, food or medical care. As the stretched healthcare system concentrates on managing the outbreak, children are not treated even for the most common paediatric diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition.
Household food insecurity in the 3 affected countries is waiting to emerge, with effects on the health and development of children. These could include iron deficiency, developmental effects, and behaviour problems – primarily aggression, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder. In the circumstances, these risks are under-assessed and therefore under prioritised.
As the world focuses on Ebola as a health crisis, the humanitarian community and the world at large needs to worry about the risks of infant mortality, low birth weights, stunting, and all the subsequent disadvantages of malnutrition. These may not manifest themselves immediately, but could have far-reaching effects.
Food assistance: Plan responds
Plan International, together with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is ramping up operations in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, providing food assistance to around 1.3 million people.
Plan has just completed a rapid needs assessment that will inform key decisions around immediate, medium and long term food assistance intervention choices.
As we mark this year's World Food Day* on 16 October, we are reminded of how this health crisis could quickly turn into a food security crisis. The humanitarian community, governments and the world at large must do everything to prevent this and other health crises from transforming into serious food emergencies.
While donors and the international community have pledged to address the Ebola medical emergency, integrated interventions need to be designed and fast tracked, to minimise effects, to ensure that families can care for children and provide for their food needs.
Donors should also invest more resources in emergency food assistance and cash transfer programmes to prevent the long-term effects that lack of access to food may bring.
A food crisis could seriously complicate the delicate efforts of containing the Ebola outbreak – we must do everything we can to avoid it.
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