The World Health Organization declared Liberia free of Ebola on Saturday, making it the first of the three hardest-hit West African countries to bring a formal end to the epidemic.
“The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over,” the W.H.O. said in a statement. The president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, planned to attend ceremonies later in the morning to commemorate the dead and celebrate survivors.
As of Saturday, two maximum incubation periods of the virus, a total of 42 days, had passed since the burial of the last person confirmed to have had Ebola in Liberia, fulfilling the official criteria for concluding that human-to-human transmission of the virus has ended. According to the W.H.O., there were more than 3,000 confirmed Ebola cases in Liberia, and a further 7,400 suspected or probable cases, with more than 4,700 deaths estimated to have occurred since the outbreak was declared there in March of 2014. Among the dead were 189 health care workers.
“I’m particularly struck by the significant progress we have made as a country and as a people,” Tolbert Nyenswah, a senior Liberian health official who heads the country’s Ebola response efforts, said Thursday in an interview. The end of the epidemic was, he said, “a victory for Liberia and Liberians. The only caution is that our subregion is not free yet, and we are very much concerned about Guinea and Sierra Leone.”
Last week those countries, which share borders with Liberia, each reported nine cases of the disease, the lowest weekly total this year. Mr. Nyenswah said Liberia would continue many of the control measures that helped the country vanquish the epidemic, including surveying border areas for sick travelers, testing all dead bodies for the virus and conducting burials with specially trained teams wearing full protective gear.
“We are being extremely cautious,” Dr. Bernice Dahn, the country’s incoming health minister, said Friday in an email. She added that the country’s priority now is to build its critically deficient health care workforce to provide Liberians with a higher standard of care and help guard against future outbreaks. “Ebola highlighted our health system’s weaknesses,” she said.
A key question for Liberians is whether the end of the outbreak will draw foreign companies back to the country, whose economy has been battered. British Airways, for instance, which came under fire from aid officials after it and several other airlines stopped flying to Liberia and Sierra Leone last August, has not resumed services.
SOURCE: SHERI FINK
The New York Times