WHO declares Ebola outbreak over, Liberia cleared

By Zoom Dosso, AFP

MONROVIA, Liberia–The world breathed a sigh of relief Thursday as a two-year Ebola epidemic that killed 11,000 people and triggered a global health alert was declared over, with Liberia the last country to get the all-clear. The deadliest outbreak in the history of the feared tropical virus wrecked the economies and health systems of the three worst-hit West African nations after it emerged in southern Guinea in December 2013.

At its peak, it devastated Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with bodies piling up in the streets and overwhelmed hospitals recording hundreds of new cases a week. “Today the World Health Organization declares the end of the most recent outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia and says all known chains of transmission have been stopped in West Africa,” the U.N. health agency announced in Geneva. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has warned the region can expect sporadic cases in the coming year but added “we also expect the potential and frequency of those flare-ups to decrease over time.” “The end of Ebola transmission in West Africa is testament to what we can achieve when multilateralism works as it should, bringing the international community to work alongside national governments in caring for their people,” he told a General Assembly briefing on Wednesday.

“Let us pledge to maintain our vigilance, our commitment and our solidarity for the people of West Africa and our world.” Liberia, the country worst hit by the outbreak with 4,800 deaths, discharged its last two patients from hospital — the father and younger brother of a 15-year-old victim — on Dec. 3, 2015. Fear of Global Pandemic Africa’s oldest republic was the last country still afflicted by the outbreak that infected almost 29,000 people and claimed 11,315 lives, according to official data.

The real toll is suspected to be much higher, with many Ebola deaths believed to have gone unreported. After the last patient is declared in the clear, a 42-day countdown — twice the incubation period of the virus — begins before the country is proclaimed Ebola-free. Ebola causes severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea. In many cases it shuts down organs and causes unstoppable internal bleeding. Patients often succumb within days. The virus is spread through close contact with the sweat, vomit, blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person, or the recently deceased. From a Guinean infant who was the first victim the epidemic quickly spread into neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, notching up more deaths than all other Ebola outbreaks combined. Liberia was first to be declared free of human-to-human Ebola transmission in May, only to see the virus resurface six weeks later. It was officially credited with beating the epidemic for a second time in September before another small cluster of cases emerged.

Mali, Senegal and Nigeria also recorded a small number of cases. The WHO came under fire for its sluggish response to the epidemic, which local health care systems were woefully under equipped to handle. Over 500 health care workers died in three West African countries at the height of the outbreak.