What are Funders Doing About Ebola’s Orphaned Children? So Far, Not Much

NGOs and government agencies have ponied up millions of dollars toward the prevention, containment, and treatment of Ebola. In September, the Gates Foundation gave $50 million to the UN and other NGOs to help support operating and medical supply costs at Ebola treatment centers and facilities. At the time, the US government committed around $175 million and the US military committed $500 million in what it refers to as ‘humanitarian assistance’ to outbreak countries in West Africa. To add a few more to the list, the US Fund for UNICEF has donated over $10 million, the America Red Cross around $3 million. Those numbers will probably grow as the crisis continues to rage.

Tens of millions of dollars have been funneled toward the fight, but Patrick Rooney, Dean of Indiana University’s School of Philanthropy says that “…there has been a relatively small US response,” to Ebola, adding, "My inbox would usually be exploding (with solicitations) after a big disaster, and it isn't now. The 'why' is a little puzzling."

Another puzzling ‘why’: Why aren’t NGOs and government agencies addressing the issue of the growing number of children orphaned after losing parents to Ebola?

According to UNICEF, around 3,700 children have lost one or both parents to Ebola since the outbreak began. Since Ebola is relatively far from containment, it’s pretty safe to assume that UNICEFs number will increase in the coming weeks and months. Making matters worse is that fact that in normal circumstances, friends and family members would come to their aid and take them in. With Ebola, that isn’t happening. The children are being shunned, not only by their villages, but by their families as well.

Andrew Brooks, head of UNICEF’s child protection program in West and Central Africa, admits that there is real fear here. Children who have lost their parents to Ebola have been exposed to the virus and therefore represent a legitimate threat to healthy families and communities—at least during the 21-day incubation period. UNICEF has asked the international community to contribute $200 million to help provide assistance to both the children and the families effected by Ebola. So far, it’s received around $50 million, or a mere 25 percent of that amount. So what gives?

At this point, no one can say for sure the economic, financial, and social toll Ebola will exact before it runs its course. NGOs like Save the Children and More than Me are doing their best to care for these suddenly parentless children, and UNICEF has plans in the works to help care for kids that have been exposed to the virus and must be quarantined for the 21-day incubation period—but then what?

Even with the efforts of the few NGOs and government agencies that have jumped to action, Manuel Fontaine, Director of UNICEF in West and Central Africa stated,

The vast majority of the children affected by Ebola are still left without appropriate care. We cannot respond to a crisis of this nature and this scale in the usual ways. We need more courage, more creativity, and far, far more resources.

I understand the logic behind the current state of Ebola funding—preventing, treating, and containing the virus first leads to more survivors and fewer parentless children. The problem with that logic is that in the meantime, the number of orphaned children is growing alongside the death toll. Maybe not as quickly, but growing nonetheless. Not to mention, Liberia already had an ongoing orphan crisis before Ebola struck as it is still recovering from years of civil conflict. So, (1) Civil war. (2) Ebola. (3) Lack of funding. It’s a devastating trifecta. If funders don’t start stepping up, will we be looking at Liberia’s next generation of lost children?