The world breathed a sigh of relief yesterday 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 UN health agency announced in Geneva.
UN Secretary-General 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 — early last month.
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 begins before the country is proclaimed Ebola-free.
The WHO came under fire for its sluggish response to the epidemic, which local healthcare systems were woefully underequipped to handle. More than 500 healthcare workers died in three west African countries at the height of the outbreak.
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