GENEVA - The U.N. Children’s Fund said it will open 10 new Ebola Community Care Centers this week in Sierra Leone, describing the move as part of an effort to bring Ebola treatment closer to where people live.
The latest U.N. figures show Sierra Leone is approaching 5,600 Ebola cases, including nearly 1,200 deaths.
Among the reasons for the increase is the failure of people infected with Ebola to go to treatment centers, which often are far away from where they live.
People who remain at home are at risk of infecting family members and surrounding communities. To try to remedy this, UNICEF is introducing Community Care Centers, a concept developed by the World Health Organization.
The agency is opening the first of 10 such centers in northern Sierra Leone's Bombali district, one of the areas hardest hit by the disease, with plans to build about 30 more centers in neighboring districts in the coming weeks.
UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone Roeland Monasch, speaking from Freetown, said the focus of these centers is to isolate all Ebola cases to avoid infecting others and to provide infected people with safe care in the community.
The centers will be run by the government of Sierra Leone through its District Health Management Team, with the participation of local non-governmental organizations.
Monasch told VOA the main health workers in these clinics are trained nurses who come from the communities themselves.
“The family members are indeed allowed to see their (infected) loved ones ... from a protected and safe distance and finally, we are setting them up in the communities because often people have to wait very long before they are moved out of their households to treatment centers far away," he said. "While they are at home, they are ... infecting others. Secondly, there are not enough beds in the other places as well, so Community Care Centers also provide additional beds for treatment as such.”
Work with local officials
Monasch said UNICEF has worked closely with local authorities and traditional leaders to make sure these centers are accepted and become an integral part of the communities.
He said a recent national survey regarding Ebola shows knowledge and awareness of the disease is exceptionally high in Sierra Leone.
“Stigma and discrimination reduced significantly. But, misconceptions, although also reduced, remain," Monasch said. "For example, 36 percent of the population still believes that bathing in salt water prevents Ebola and only 64 percent in the community accepted alternative safe burials without touching of washing of dead bodies. But, overall a significant improvement in awareness and behavior.”
Monasch said concern is increasing about the large number of Ebola orphans and children who are being abandoned. He said families are afraid to touch them because they are suspected of having Ebola.
He said UNICEF is setting up observational care centers in the eight most affected areas where the children will be taken.
Monasch said Ebola survivors, who are believed to be immune from getting the disease, will care for these children during the critical 21-day incubation period to determine whether they are infected.