Christian Aid issues warning as Ebola countries hit by starvation
The risk of hunger and malnutrition within Ebola-hit communities in West Africa is threatening to undermine the effectiveness of quarantine measures and, with it, the wider Ebola response, warns Christian Aid.
As the rate of infection continues to rise, the agency is calling on the international community to address the problem of food insecurity for over a million people in quarantine in Sierra Leone.
With hospitals and treatment centres overstretched and at capacity, effective but humane quarantine measures are key to halting the spread of the virus, says Christian Aid.
Adrian Ouvry, Christian Aid’s Humanitarian Programmes Manager, said: “Households, neighbourhoods and even entire districts have been isolated in Sierra Leone.
“To break the chain of transmission, you have to limit people’s movements, but it is counter-productive to restrict their movement without addressing their basic needs. Endemic poverty, increased food prices and limited support to affected communities are forcing people to leave quarantined homes to fend for their families – increasing the chances of transmitting the virus to others.
“If you are a parent with hungry children, then you have no choice but to think about your day-to-day survival, and in order to survive, families in Sierra Leone are having to break quarantine in order to earn money and buy food. We do not want a situation where a parent is faced with only two options: the risk of exposing themselves and potentially others to the virus, or the risk of seeing their children go hungry.
“Governments and aid agencies must recognise that quarantine will only be effective if those who are isolated are guaranteed a sufficient and constant supply of nutritious food and clean water. Otherwise, the issue of hunger and food security will undermine the success of quarantine measures.”
The World Food Programme has begun providing emergency food assistance to over a million people across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The rations include a month’s worth of rice, pulses, vegetable oil and salt for families. However, much more is needed.
Former nurse Theresa Bagrey, Christian Aid’s senior programme officer for community health, based in Freetown, said: “Many people here in Freetown still need to go out to find food. Markets are still crowded, as people try desperately to buy, sell and scrape together a living.
“Meanwhile, the rations given to quarantined homes do not appear to be enough and nutritional value is a problem. These issues must be addressed.”
To date, over 4,500 people in West Africa have died from the Ebola virus disease.