GENEVA - The United Nations' Children's Fund, or UNICEF, reports an unprecedented number of children in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are being infected with Ebola and many are dying from this deadly disease.
Children account for more than 700 of the 2,671 reported cases of Ebola. UNICEF health specialist Jerome Pfaffman says more than half of the youngsters infected with this deadly disease are below the age of five.
Pfaffman, who has just completed his third tour of duty in northeast Congo, calls this number unprecedented. He says it is proportionally higher than the number of children who were infected in the 2014 West African outbreak, which affected about 28,000 people, killing more than 11,000.
"When I left there were 12 new confirmed cases," he said. "Five were alive and will have the chance to access treatment, but seven had died in the community. This is bad. Having this number of community deaths means we are not ahead of the epidemic."
Pfaffman says people living in conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces are facing both a public health emergency and a humanitarian crisis, making it particularly difficult to bring this complex outbreak under control.
He says building community trust is crucial for this effort. He says treating children for illnesses other than Ebola is critical. He tells VOA when a child falls ill, the mother doesn't know whether the child has malaria, measles or Ebola.
"You need to be able to take care of that child, whatever disease it is," he said. "... By doing that kind of program, we will be able then both to treat that child for whatever disease he or she has. And, also identify quickly the Ebola cases, and refer them and control the outbreak."
Pfaffman warns it will not be possible to bring this epidemic to an end without greater international support and more resources. He says UNICEF will have to more than triple its budget to respond to this complex crisis, requiring about $170 million over the next six months.
Main activities include epidemic control, helping communities strengthen their response to the disease in at-risk areas, and delivering essential services.