October 14, 2020


Lessons from Ebola

Child labourHuman rightsHuman traffickingModern slavery


​​While the Covid-19 pandemic has brought little in the way of good news to our globe, there have been some small mercies. Such as the growing evidence of the strong resilience children have to the most damaging effects of the virus, as well as the lower infection rates it has seen across Africa and parts of Asia, when compared with Europe and the Americas.                   

But while these two factors have prevented the virus itself from causing fatalities and severe illness on a mass scale in some of the world’s most fragile contexts; previous epidemics testify to a more complex picture. 

Even in cases where diseases have had a much higher infection and morbidity rate; it is often the social and economic consequences, lingering long beyond the life of a disease, that can cause the most harm to children in vulnerable communities

What Ebola can teach us

Lessons from Ebola: the impacts of previous infectious diseases on supply chains and child labour in fragile contexts to inform Covid-19 Responses draws on a broad range of reports published by businesscivil societyacademia and government bodies to analyse the impacts recent outbreaks of Ebola, Polio and Cholera have had on supply chains in fragile contexts and, in turn, how the social and economic consequences of these shocks impact on the prevalence of the worst forms of child labour. 

How infectious diseases increase child labour risks

Negative social and economic consequences of previous disease outbreaks are far more pronounced in contexts that rely heavily on labour intensive industries and the production and export of commodities with fluctuating prices; where even slight economic downturns can push families and children into poverty. Food insecuritylost family incomeschool and border closures and the ensuing rise in the informal economy drives many children into hazardous labour, armed groups and abusive domestic or care environments. 

The link between strong supply chains and health interventions

Experiences with polio and cholera have demonstrated the extent to which successful vaccination campaigns are largely dependent on well- functioning supply chains and travel routes, to both meet global demand and prevent resurgence of an infectious disease. Consequently, children and wider communities in fragile contexts are usually the last to benefit from immunisation programs due to lack of state-funded infrastructure, poor supply chain and logistics management, corruption and restricted access into conflict areas.

This presents a significant challenge to all stakeholders involved in the production and delivery of the much anticipated Covid-19 vaccine and other medical interventions. All must work together to ensure communities and regions are not left behind and potentially ostracised from international trade recovery as a result.  

Covid-19 halting progress on Polio & Cholera eradication

Concerns around the safe distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine for the most vulnerable are further exacerbated by the current pause put on established polio and cholera immunisation campaigns in vulnerable communities. Social distancing measures and the re-prioritisation of resources for Covid-19 responses are causing concern that we could see a resurgence of these diseases if vaccine programs do not recommence soon. 

Children and communities in fragile contexts are usually the last to benefit from immunisation programs due to lack of state-funded infrastructure, poor supply chain and logistics management, corruption and restricted access.

Reputational Hazards Affecting Trade

Stigmatisation of suppliers in regions that are perceived to lack sufficient resources to suppress and eradicate infectious diseases has often damaged trade exports and economies more aggressively and pervasively than the disease itself.
As Ebola, Polio and Cholera epidemics have proven, business and supply chains in weaker economies have been hit disproportionately by costly export and screening restrictions or the loss of revenue to ‘safer’ suppliers in other locations. 

Females pay the Highest Price

As numerous other Covid-19 and Ebola studies and reports are indicating, the pandemic is further disadvantaging the most vulnerable members of society. Along with the increased exposure to loss of income, school closures and the worst forms of child labour; girls and women in these contexts are at even higher risk

Girls and women are more likely to be employed in casual, informal work or within industries hardest hit; predominantly bearing the brunt of rises in domestic and sexual abuse, forced prostitution and marriage, as well as early pregnancy and social stigmatisation.

Areas for intervention

Lessons from Ebola considers a range of potential areas for intervention and collaboration, categorised for business & supply chains, education, community-level engagement, awareness raising and policy. 

‘COVID-19 responses must draw from previous experiences of programme planning and international collaboration; firstly to meet the immediate needs for lifesaving public healthcare, and then to cope with the effects of COVID-19 regarding other socio-economic aspects of children’s lives and communities.’

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