Ebola, one year later: Gone?

The big, big news this week is not what’s happening in Liberia, but what isn’t happening.

As of last Thursday, Caritas reported, there are Ebola patients being treated in Liberian hospitals or clinics. There has not been a new case reported in 12 days – if Liberia can go another 30 days without a new case of Ebola, the World Health Organization will declare the nation Ebola free.

Caritas reports the borders have reopened, the curfew has been lifted and schools are again open. But officials also remember that the outbreak – which has killed nearly 10,000 people in West Africa – started with just one sick boy in Guinea:

. . . trained volunteers from Caritas Liberia are still reaching out to the most remote communities, to spread the ever more difficult message of Ebola prevention, distributing buckets with soap and bleach in the framework of the hygiene campaign. Only if everybody fully cooperates until the very last step, success will be certain.

In Guinea, however, the fight continues. One of Catholic Relief Services’ efforts to fight Ebola there is to train health care workers on proper procedures to keep themselves safe when treating Ebola patients.

CRS says Ebola has killed at least 100 health care workers in Guinea, further weakening an already overwhelmed medical system.

And while Liberia may be winning the fight against Ebola, there is a stark reminder of just how fragile the situation is after years of war and crushing poverty: Officials are now dealing with a whooping cough outbreak in the southern part of the country.

Whooping cough is the common name for Pertussis, a childhood respiratory infection that can be fatal.

The International Rescue Committee is working with local government officials to get infected children treated.

“Pertussis is an example of a terrible disease that’s preventable if children and babies are vaccinated,” said Nick Lobel-Weiss, an IRC health coordinator in Maryland County. “We’re working rapidly to get the message out to communities that parents need to get their kids with symptoms to health facilities for treatment now.”

Lobel-Weiss put it best when describing the situation: “The people of Liberia have suffered enough. They don’t need this.”

No one needs this, either

Just when you thought the news about Boko Haram couldn’t get much worse comes word the extremists are using children as suicide bombers.

Catholic News Service reports that Catholic bishops in Nigeria are speaking out against the practice, as well as the downward spiral of society from national debate to violence and horror.

We deplore the fact that young children are used to commit such crimes, and the fact that young Nigerians are used by politicians to intimidate and inflict violence on their political opponents is a disturbing symptom of breakdown of family values in our society,” the bishops said. . . . “Our hearts go (out) to children separated from their parents, especially our beloved daughters, the Chibok girls, and others who have been abducted by mindless terrorists. We think of many others who live in camps far away from their homes lost in the insurgency.

As elections approach, the bishops said, tensions are rising, but the level of discourse is not.

Instead, they see “an electioneering campaign largely devoid of issues of national interest but full of threats of violence, falsehood, rumor-mongering, mudslinging and suspicion.”

Sadly, Boko Haram isn’t the only group using children as tools of war.

For 20 years, the United Nations’ Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict has been fighting the use of children as soldiers. But two decades later, the fight against that scourge continues.

The U.N. says the children are not being used by armed extremists or militias, but by national security forces in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.

The “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign began a year ago this month, and has already made much progress. The goal is to end the use of children in national security forces by 2016.

“Momentum is building and the goal is within reach,” the U.N. says.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]