The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has ramped up support for over 500,000 children affected, or are at risk of contracting the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

In a statement, the UNICEF said apart from the daily risk of infection, children in the affected areas are haunted by the fear of losing parents or guardians to the disease, presently ravaging the north-western Equateur Province.

In addition to the high child mortality rates associated with Ebola, children often suffer additional impacts which include fear, stigmatization, emotional injury and other invisible scars.

UNICEF said children play a critical role in the Ebola disaster response effort as schools are where children are taught how to prevent diseases. Children dominate the 300 000 people who have accessed life-saving information from UNICEF since the outbreak began in May.  

“Children are at the heart of our response, and we are scaling up prevention efforts in schools across all of the affected areas. This includes installing hand washing units in more than 270 schools and supporting activities to raise awareness for more than 13,000 children.

“UNICEF is establishing two child protection committees to help affected children and families. The committees are doing counselling and providing psychosocial support kits like cooking utensils, clothes, soap, mats, buckets, mosquito nets and food,” UNICEF said.

The UNICEF-led committees are also working on the creation of support groups for children whose families were affected by Ebola.

To date, the organisation has donated over 80 tonnes of supplies including soaps, tarpaulins, generators, purification tablets, buckets as well as chlorine for water, sanitation and hygiene activities to the Ebola response in the DR Congo.