Declaring Liberia Ebola-free for the third time after no new cases were recorded in 42 days, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) announcement was the first time in two years that the three hardest-hit West African countries – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – have had zero cases for at least the same period.
The formal ceremony was held at the Health Ministry in Congo town, Monrovia.
“The WHO commends the government, people, communities, health workers and partners on the successful response to this latest outbreak of Ebola. The rapid cessation of the flare-up is a concrete demonstration of Liberia’s strengthened national capacity to manage Ebola outbreaks.
“We very much hope it will be the last. But given the tenacity of the Ebola virus, there is a real risk of additional flare-ups,” WHO Representative Dr. Alex Gasasira read in a statement.
“We commend the government of Liberia for developing a national policy that will ensure that EVD survivors have access to medical and psychosocial care, screening for persistent virus, as well as counseling and education. This will assist EVD survivors to reintegrate into family and community life, reduce stigma and minimize the risk of Ebola virus transmission.”
He reminded Liberians that the Ebola virus may persist in some of the bodily fluids of a small number of recovered individuals for prolonged periods, “and this virus may be transmitted through very intimate contact, including through unprotected sex.”
It may be recalled that the 2014/2015 Ebola outbreak was declared over in Liberia on May 9, 2015. The virus made two outbreaks before the third flare-up was reported on November 15 when a 10 year old tested positive and tragically died on November 23.
Accordingly, the boy’s younger brother and father were also infected, but after receiving necessary care, both recovered and were released from the ETU on December 3. All of the more than 165 contacts were identified and closely monitored, but no new infections were detected.
When Liberia was declared Ebola-free in May the WHO warned against complacency, saying that there was a high risk that infected people could cross over to Liberia – given the region’s porous borders.
Meanwhile, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim issued the following statement on yesterday’s announcement declaring the end of Ebola transmission in Liberia, which marked the first time since the start of the epidemic that Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have all reported no cases for at least 42 days.
“For two years, the people and governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been fighting the worst Ebola outbreak in history, which has infected more than 28,600 people and has claimed the lives of 11,300 people.
“Yesterday, as Liberia marked the end of Ebola transmission—following Guinea’s and Sierra Leone’s declarations on Dec. 29 and Nov. 7, 2015, respectively—these three nations can take pride in their perseverance and commitment to reach this critical milestone.
“Ebola has exacted an enormous toll on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It has not only taken thousands of lives, it has devastated economies, health systems, social structures and families—reversing many years of development gains.
“Ebola’s scars will not soon fade, especially for survivors and their families, and for the heroic health workers who cared for the infected.
“It’s now time to heed the lessons of this epidemic. In the near term, the world must remain vigilant to stay at zero Ebola cases, especially with the threat of flare-ups of the disease, while helping the three hardest-hit countries recover and rebuild their economies and health systems.
“The world must prepare for future pandemics now. Expert reviews of the Ebola response led by the United Nations, the Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the National Academy of Medicine, and others offer the opportunity to build a smarter, swifter global pandemic response system.
“As part of this effort, the World Bank Group, World Health Organization, and government and private sector partners are developing a Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility to provide swift and flexible financing to help stop a severe outbreak from becoming a more deadly and costly pandemic, thereby saving lives and protecting economies.”