With an unprecedented number of children affected by the Ebola virus outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday said it would need to triple its budget to tackle the complex crisis, which included intensifying the overall public health response and launching measles vaccinations.
“This Ebola response is far more complex because it is in an active conflict zone,” Jerome Pfaffmann, a UNICEF health specialist, told reporters in Geneva, just back from his third visit to the country.
He underscored that “people in the (eastern Congolese) provinces of North Kivu and Ituri are facing humanitarian and public health crises,” and in addition, half the health facilities in Ituri had been damaged or destroyed over the last two years.
The UNICEF expert said there were 2,671 confirmed cases of Ebola as of 28 July, including more than 700 children, more than half of whom – some 57 per cent – were under five years of age.
“When I left, there were 12 new confirmed cases, 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,” he said.
“It is unprecedented to have such a [high] proportion of affected children,” Mr. Pfaffmann continued, adding that both provinces were also facing a measles outbreak.
So far, UNICEF has vaccinated more than 40,000 children against measles, but a massive scale-up was needed to protect them from various health risks.
With all this in mind, UNICEF planned to carry out a new strategic response plan to address acute humanitarian and social needs.
“UNICEF will need to triple its budget to respond to this crisis,” said Mr. Pfaffmann, stressing that “we need desperately the international community to back us up.”
This budget would include about $70 million for epidemic control activities, $30 million to build community capacities in at-risk areas, and another $70 million to deliver essential services.
Meanwhile, the UN agency was continuing operations with “colleagues and communities on the ground who are fighting the outbreak tirelessly.”
Just two days away from the one-year milestone of the Ebola virus disease outbreak in the DRC, the UNICEF expert said it was critical to make the investment to keep the epidemic under control.
“This is a wake-up call. There must not be a second-year milestone,” Mr. Pfaffmann declared, stressing that community mobilization was critical to curbing the spread of the disease because “they are capable of best doing the things that matter.”