UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- At least 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have lost one or both parents to Ebola since the start of the outbreak in West Africa, according to preliminary estimates by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), which was released here Monday, and many are being rejected by their surviving relatives for fear of infection.
"Thousands of children are living through the deaths of their mother, father or family members from Ebola," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF's regional director for West and Central Africa, who just returned from a two-week visit to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three countries hardest hit by the Ebola crisis in West Africa, where more than 3,000 people have been killed since the outbreak early this year.
"These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned," he said. " Orphans are usually taken in by a member of the extended family, but in some communities, the fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties."
As the death toll from Ebola continues to rise, preliminary reports from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone suggest that the number of children orphaned by Ebola has spiked in the past few weeks and is likely to double by mid-October, UNICEF said.
Ebola is also exacting a heavy emotional toll on children, especially when they or their parents have to be isolated for treatment.
As it accelerates its Ebola response, UNICEF is looking at traditional and new ways to help provide children with the physical and emotional healing they need:
In Liberia, UNICEF is helping the government train 400 additional mental health and social workers. UNICEF is also working with local authorities in the most affected counties to help strengthen family and community support to children affected by Ebola and provide care to those who have been rejected by their communities or whose families have died.
Over the next 6 months more than 2,500 Ebola survivors -- now immune to the disease -- will be trained in Sierra Leone to provide care and support to quarantined children in treatment centers.
UNICEF is also working with partners to reunite separated children with their families through an extensive family tracing network across the country which also provides children with psychosocial support.
In Guinea, UNICEF and partners will provide about 60,000 vulnerable children and families in Ebola-affected communities with psychosocial support.
UNICEF appealed for 200 million U.S. dollars to provide emergency assistance to children and families affected by the Ebola outbreak across the region, including protection activities. So far, UNICEF has only received 25 percent of this amount.