Liberia has been declared Ebola free by the World Health Organization (WHO) this week. This confirms that the country, which has seen the most deaths since the disease outbreak began, has gone 42 days without a new case being reported. The fight, however, is not over as neighbouring countries Guinea and Sierra Leone continue to battle the disease.
Since March last year more than 4,700 people have lost their life to the virus in Liberia. A country has to go 42 days - twice the incubation period of the disease - before the WHO can declare it Ebola free. Almost exactly a year since the outbreak began, the last confirmed case of Ebola was buried on the 28 March.
Map showing recent confirmed cases of Ebola. Image credit: WHO
“We will celebrate our communities which have taken responsibility and participated in fighting this unknown enemy and finally we've crossed the Rubicon. Liberia indeed is a happy nation,” President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told the BBC.
At the peak of the outbreak, Liberia was reporting between 300 and 400 new cases a week. The capital of the country, Monrovia, was a major battleground in fighting the disease that was spreading like wildfire throughout the region. People were locked out of overflowing treatment centers, dying in the street with bodies being left where they lay for days on end. At one point, there were no free beds for Ebola patients anywhere in the country, according to the WHO.
Alongside lauding President Sirleaf for her quick and decisive action when the outbreak first struck, the WHO also paid tribute to the health staff at the front of the fight. During the outbreak, a total of 378 health workers in Liberia caught Ebola, 192 of whom died. Initially they faced tough opposition from those residing in the country as many believed that rather than treating the disease, the health officials were responsible for it, making them reluctant to seek help.
Although this latest announcement is certainly encouraging, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) are quick to urge continued vigilance and warn that people should not get complacent. With 9 new cases reported in both Guinea and Sierra Leone in the week leading up to May 3, MSF have stated that there is a real need to increase cross-border surveillance to stop it re-emerging in Liberia.
“For Liberia to record 42 days with zero cases of Ebola is a real milestone,” says Mariateresa Cacciapuoti, MSF’s head of mission in Liberia. “But we can’t take our foot off the gas until all three countries record 42 days with no cases.”
During the past year, Ebola has spread to 9 countries globally, with Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone amongst the worst hit countries. According to the WHO, there have been over 26,500 confirmed cases of infection, with over 11,000 confirmed deaths, although they’re quick to point out that the outcome of many cases remain unknown, and thus this is probably a massive underestimate.