UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations has begun training Ebola survivors to help respond to the soaring number of cases in West Africa, because people who've lived through the experience are now immune to the disease, UNICEF's crisis communications chief told reporters Friday.
Sarah Crowe said the U.N. is training the survivors to work with children in Liberia and Sierra Leone who've had contact with infected people, often family members, and require 21 days of isolation.
"Ebola has hijacked every aspect of life" in these hardest-hit countries, Crowe said, and it has left an estimated 3,700 orphans across the region. With the number of Ebola cases tripling every three weeks, she said, the number of orphans will grow.
Survivors of Ebola can offer the love and attention a small child needs, without the fear that has made life "a very unhuman experience," she said.
Ebola has turned large parts of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea into a no-touch culture, which has been especially hard on children.
The first of the government-run Interim Care Centers featuring survivors as caregivers opened last week in the outskirts of Liberia's capital, Monrovia. At least one center is expected to open within a month in each of Liberia's five most affected counties. Each center will be equipped to care for 30 children.
So far, 20 Ebola survivors have been trained to work in the centers, with another 30 identified, Crowe said.
"While survivors will still largely follow a 'no-touch' protocol for older children, they will be able to touch and hold infants who need more personal attention and care," Crowe said.
The disease has shattered families, and aid workers have scrambled to find family members who can take over children's care.
More than 4,500 people have been killed in the outbreak, and the World Health Organization has warned that West Africa could soon face up to 10,000 new cases a week.
Crowe stressed that as far as the overall Ebola response goes, "we're in totally unmapped terrain."
Now fears are seeping into the United States.
Crowe has been back in New York for a week after five weeks in West Africa. She began her briefing by announcing her current body temperature and holding up a bottle of hand sanitizer. When she boarded her regular New York City bus and passengers heard where she had been, she said, some gasped and moved away.