GENEVA - The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is affecting more children than normal. The United Nations Children's Fund says kids represent nearly one-third of current total cases, compared to about 20 percent in previous outbreaks.
The World Health Organization reports more than 2,500 cases of Ebola in eastern Congo, including nearly 1,670 deaths.
The U.N. Children's Fund says about 750 of those cases are children.
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says children under age five are especially hard hit, and account for 40 percent of infections. She notes an exceptionally high number of children are succumbing to the virus.
“The case fatality ratio or the number of cases who die among this group of under-fives is 77 percent. That is compared with 67 percent among the general population, which means that young children are at higher risk than adults,” she said.
Mercado says Ebola affects children very differently from adults. Consequently, she says they need specialized care, both medically and psychologically.
She says children infected with Ebola receive the same drugs as adults, but they require smaller dosages. She says they also require treatment for diarrhea, against intestinal parasites and special nutritional feeding.
She says children who are separated from their parents or orphaned from Ebola need longer term psycho-social care and support to help them get over their loss.
“Virtually all of them need help to counter the debilitating effects of stigma and discrimination that taints children affected by Ebola. They need to be accepted, valued and loved by their families and communities,” she said.
ln Congo, Mercado says dedicated pediatricians provide special medical care for children in Ebola treatment centers. She says every child is assigned a dependable caregiver who also is an Ebola survivor and therefore immune to the disease.