After Losing Parents To Ebola, Orphans Face Stigma : Goats and Soda UNICEF estimates that thousands of children in West Africa have lost parents to Ebola. Convincing communities to accept and care for these children isn't always easy.
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After Losing Parents To Ebola, Orphans Face Stigma

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After Losing Parents To Ebola, Orphans Face Stigma

After Losing Parents To Ebola, Orphans Face Stigma

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In the heart of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, one special concern is for the thousands of children who have lost one or both parents to the disease. What will happen to them? Andrew Brooks is working on that. He's UNICEF's regional head of child protection. He told us there are now about 3,700 Ebola orphans in West Africa - 2000 of those children are where he is in Liberia.

ANDREW BROOKS: It's a figure that's climbing. But of course, there are many more children than that that have been affected by this. There are many children who are not orphans but have lost relatives, have lost loved ones. There's no schools open at the moment. So all children are affected in that way. There is not a child - probably not person here - that's not affected one way or the other by the Ebola epidemic.

BLOCK: Can you think of one child in particular whose case you're - you've been struck by of a child who has been orphaned by this disease? I know there are so many to choose from.

BROOKS: On Sunday, I was called to one of the Ebola treatment units urgently. There was a 4-year-old boy there whose mother had been admitted. She had arrived in such a terrible state that they could get very little information about her. All they had was the mother's name and two cell numbers and the boy's name - not even his age. Sadly, she died. The boy was tested. He was negative. So there was a need to get the boy quickly out of the Ebola treatment unit - not the right place for a young child to be.

And the government social workers found a survivor. If you remember, the survivors have a little bit of immunity to the virus. Fortunately, this lady survivor was willing to take the four-year-old boy. But once the little boy was taken to the survivor's home, the community around refused to let the boy stay with her because of the fear, because of the stigma that the virus could come into the community. Fortunately in this case, one of those cell numbers finally picked up. And it was the auntie who was just so overjoyed that the boy was still alive. And that's where the boy will be going.

BLOCK: It's really hard to imagine, Mr. Brooks, a child who's already no doubt traumatized by everything he's seen and the loss of one or both parents and then facing this stigma of being shunned - of no one who seems willing to take him in.

BROOKS: Absolutely. It's very tough. These children do represent a real risk - a continued risk - if they start showing symptoms. And it's a question of supporting parents and families to look after these children in a safe way and providing quick access to the services for testing and treatment should the symptoms appear.

BLOCK: What happens, Mr. Brooks, if you are unable to find a relative or someone in the community who will take in an orphan child? What do they do?

BROOKS: That's a very timely question because it's unfortunately increasingly the case. I would say the last one or two weeks, we're sadly getting now cases increasingly. I had one today of two different families. Three children from two parents were dead. And they were totally alone in a kind of holding center. Then another three children alone in the same place whose mother had died and father was seriously sick - sadly probably about to die - again, whose grandmother was there and wanted to look after the three children but couldn't because of the resistance from the community.

So these six children - they need immediate support and care-giving. These children are all alone. They're under 10. And so unfortunately, these are the children we see and we need to respond to. But I would say the more important response that the government is putting in place is to strengthen the tracing of families to get these kids home and find extended families - aunties, uncles, grandparents - and in the case like we heard about the community rejection and resistance. And as a last resort, we're starting to work with the government to put in place some centers where children can go for the 21-day period and hopefully can provide the reassurance and comfort and confidence that the communities and families would need to be able to take the children home.

BLOCK: You're talking about the 21-day incubation period for the Ebola virus to present itself.

BROOKS: That's right.

BLOCK: As you think about the work that you're trying to do there in Liberia and in the region, what would you need most?

BROOKS: The kind of standard answer to that is trained medical people. If we look, for example, right now, we have these Ebola treatment units. There are seven of them functioning. There's a plan to step up to 27, including the intervention of the U.S. to construct 17 of them. But, you know, there's - the number of patients within those seven units - it's about 770. But the number of people who are probable or suspected or confirmed infected is over 3,600.

BLOCK: Now that's just in Liberia.

BROOKS: That's just in Liberia. So it's good to build structures. But if you can't staff those places with suitably trained people, that's still going to - not going to be able to do it. And the medical care support is a rally big gap. And so it stands out as what people are feeling is the most important deficit right now.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Brooks, thanks very much for talking with us today.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BLOCK: Andrew Brooks is UNICEF's regional head of child protection for West and Central Africa. He's currently in Liberia.

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