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WHO Declares Ebola Outbreak in Liberia Officially Over

On Saturday May 9, the World Health Organization  (WHO) released an official statement announcing the end of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

The announcement came 42 days after the burial of the last laboratory-confirmed Ebola patient, a woman from near the Liberian capital of Monrovia. Health officials monitored all 332 people who may have been exposed to the woman. None developed symptoms.

Most people infected with Ebola show symptoms within 21 days of being exposed to the virus. However, as a precautionary measure, the WHO waits an additional 21 days before declaring that a country or region is Ebola-free.

During the outbreak’s peak in August and September of 2014, Liberia reported over 300 new cases every week. Lack of treatment beds and protective equipment made it difficult to provide necessary care to an increasing number of patients.

Dr. Alex Gasasira, WHO representative to Liberia, traveled with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to visit hospitals after the formal statement was released. The overall mood seemed hopeful. “The health workers are dancing and clapping and singing ‘no more Ebola,’” Dr. Gasasira said.

The WHO praised such health workers, along with ambulance drivers and burial teams, for their courageous efforts in handling the crisis. “[They] were driven by a sense of community responsibility and patriotic duty to end Ebola and bring hope back to the country’s people,” the official statement read.

The report also credited the leadership of President Sirleaf and the support of the international community with the efficient handling of the crisis.

However, the U.N. health agency will “remain on high alert” as it tracks Ebola cases in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

On Monday, May 11, people gathered in the streets of Monrovia to attend the government-held celebrations. President Sirleaf held a moment of silence at the event for the thousands of Liberians who died from the disease. She also pledged her support for the governments and people of Sierra Leone and Guinea. “Until they are free, totally free, we are not free,” she said.

The WHO has termed the interruption of Ebola transmission in Liberia a “monumental achievement.” In the coming weeks, the Liberian people will begin to rebuild a country devastated by the horrors of an epidemic. Children have already started to return to schools, with new practices, such as hand-washing programs, in place.

The sense of victory is a cautious one, however. Until the entire region is Ebola-free, officials will continue to monitor the borders between Liberia and neighboring infected countries.

– Caitlin Harrison

Sources: United Nations, World Health Organization, NPR, US News and World Report, New York Times