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Orphaned by Ebola, West African children face rejection by extended family

UNICEF warns that as many as 3,700 young people who have lost parents could be abandoned by other relatives

Thousands of children left orphaned by the Ebola in West Africa are at risk of being abandoned by surviving relatives fearful of catching the killer disease, UNICEF warned Tuesday.

The current outbreak of the disease has taken the lives of more than 3,000 people — devastating families and resulting in an estimated 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone being without one or both parents, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund said. That figure is likely to double by mid-October, the agency warned. 

Those orphaned face the additional trauma of rejection by surviving relatives, some of whom are frightened of contracting the infectious disease.

"Ebola is turning a basic human reaction like comforting a sick child into a potential death sentence," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned." 

UNICEF has appealed for $200 million to provide emergency assistance to families affected by the outbreak. To date, the UN agency said that it has only met 25 percent of its goal.

Meanwhile the Pentagon said Tuesday that it has dispatched the first set of 150 troops to West Africa to help respond to the crisis. In mid-September President Barack Obama ordered 3,000 U.S. soldiers into Ebola-struck countries.

"We are supporting U.S. government and international relief efforts by leveraging our unique U.S. military capabilities," said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. "Specifically, we're establishing command and control nodes, logistics hubs, training for health care workers, and providing engineering support."

Attempts to stem the spread of Ebola have been hampered by a perceived inadequate global response to the crisis and existing health care systems that are understaffed, under-resourced and as such overwhelmed.

At present, only one in five people infected with the disease are being properly cared for in a medical facility. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that unless 70 percent of Ebola patients are treated in special units or at a hospital, the epidemic will intensify.

Without drastic improvements in the response, cases will continue to double approximately every 20 days and the number of cases in West Africa will rapidly reach "extraordinary levels," a CDC report issued last week said. In a worse case scenario, the number of Ebola cases could swell to 1.4 million by mid-January, U.S. health experts warned.

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