Liberia Is Free of Ebola, World Health Organization (WHO) Declares

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 read by Dr. Alex Ntale Gasasira, the W.H.O.’s representative to Liberia, in a packed conference room at the emergency command center in Monrovia, the capital.

Just prior to Dr. Gasasira’s statement, Luke Bawo, an epidemiologist, showed a map depicting all of Liberia in green with the number 42 superimposed on it. This represented that two maximum incubation periods of the virus, a total of 42 days, had passed since the safe burial of the last person confirmed to have had Ebola in the country, fulfilling the official criteria for concluding that human-to-human transmission of the virus has ended. The room, packed with reporters and dignitaries including the U.S. ambassador to Liberia, Deborah R. Malac, burst into applause, according to a health official who was present.

The president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, then held a moment of silence for those who had died. She thanked Liberians who had fought Ebola as well as the country’s international partners and others around the world, “whose hearts were with us.” She added, “Let us celebrate, but stay mindful and vigilant.”

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.”

The W.H.O. has recommended that Liberia maintain an additional three months of “heightened surveillance” for Ebola due to the ongoing outbreak in its neighboring countries, as well as the possibility that Ebola could re-emerge via sexual transmission from survivors.

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