On 29 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa no longer constitutes an international emergency as officials voiced confidence that remaining isolated cases in the affected countries can be contained.
Speaking to journalists, WHO chief Margaret Chan stated that “the Ebola outbreak in West Africa no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern,” officially ending the emergency, which was first declared in August 2014. While the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has ended, officials have warned that flare-ups are likely to continue, with Chan stressing on Tuesday that all three previously affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – remain vulnerable to these flare-ups, including an ongoing cluster of cases reported in Guinea, which has left five people dead. Last week, health officials in Conakry reported that 961 people who may have come into contact with the victims in the southern region of the country were being monitored. Chan also warned against complacency towards the virus, which remains in “the ecosystem” in West Africa, adding that vigilance is crucial, including reacting quickly to new cases. She noted that “particularly important will be to ensure that communities can rapidly and fully engage in any future response, cases are quickly isolated and managed.”
The deadliest-ever outbreak of the tropical disease emerged in December 2013, and since then it has killed more than 11,300 people mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. At its peak in 2014, the Ebola outbreak sparked anxiety about a possible global pandemic and led some governments to threaten or unilaterally enforce travel bans to and from the worst-affected countries. The WHO consistently pushed back against such calls, with Chan again on Tuesday reiterating that “there should be no restrictions on travel and trade with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and that any such measures should be lifted immediately.” In the wake of the recent cluster of cases reported in southern Guinea, Liberia has closed its border with the country until further notice.
During the outbreak, the United Nation’s public health agency faced criticism over its initial response to the spread of Ebola, including accusations that it took far too long in order to publicise the threat level. In May 2015, the growing criticism forced the WHO to launch a sweeping shake-up of its emergency response systems. These efforts were seen this year, when the WHO was quick to sound the alarm in response to the rapid spread of the Zika virus.
On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that a recent flare-up of Ebola in Sierra Leone is over after no new transmission of the disease were detected in the West African country. The UN health agency however warned that the virus could still resurface at any time.
The WHO has reported that Sierra Leone has had no new cases of the virus for 42 days, twice the length of the virus’s incubation period – the time that elapses between transmission of the disease and the appearance of symptoms. The WHO further indicated that it marked a milestone in the fight against Ebola, which has cost the lives of more than 11,300 people since 2013 in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in what was the world’s worst recorded outbreak of the disease. It warned however that more flare-ups are possible because the virus can persist in the eyes, central nervous system and bodily fluids of some survivors. In a statement, the WHO noted that “strong surveillance and emergency response capacity need to be maintained along with rigorous hygiene practices at home and in health facilities and active community participation.”
Sierra Leone was first declared free of Ebola transmissions in November 2015 before tests revealed one woman had died of the disease in January 2016, the same week that the WHO had declared the West African region free of new transmissions of the virus. The case of Mariatu Jalloh, a female student, displayed how easily Ebola can return if precautions are not taken and patients do not seek quick medical attention. Jalloh had travelled across the country and come into contact with dozens of people after contracting the illness. Family members washed her corpse after she died, considered dangerous since the virus is contagious for days after death. Experts say that while residents and authorities remain on edge across the region, in many areas, procedures to combat Ebola remain lax.
At least three people from the same family have died in recent weeks from diarrhea and vomiting in a remote village in southeastern Guinea, raising further concern about the disease spreading again. According to Fode Tass Sylla, spokesman for the National Coordination of the fight against Ebola in Guinea, “there is in the same family a woman who died on 29 February and husband a week later. Their child died yesterday.” Since 23 March, 5 people have died in the town, and over 800 have been placed under quarantine.
More than 100 people have been quarantined in Sierra Leone after coming in contact with a woman who died of Ebola last week. Less than a week after the first confirmed case of Ebola in Sierra Leone, health authorities have confirmed a second case.
Last week, the WHO declared that “all known chains of transmission have been stopped in West Africa” after Liberia joined Sierra Leone and Guinea in going six weeks with no reported new cases of Ebola. Shortly after the announcement on Thursday, tests revealed that Mariatu Jalloh, a 22-year-old student, died of Ebola on 12 January. Her death has resulted in concern as authorities failed to follow basic protocols. According to a health report, Jalloh lived in a house with 22 people while she was unwell. Five people were involved in washing her corpse, a practice that is considered one of the main modes of Ebola transmission. In a joint statement, the Ministry of Health and Office of National Security disclosed that 109 people have so far been quarantined, 28 of whom are high-risk cases. While the source of the transmission remains unclear, in late December, the woman travelled near to the border with Guinea, one of the country’s last Ebola hot spots before it was declared Ebola free in December. The latest outbreak has caused anger, with reports emerging that in an apparent frustration at the latest case, the homes of some high-risk patients were attacked this weekend in Magburaka, the city about 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of the capital Freetown where Jalloh died. According to a local leader, in one case, a hut was burned down and that a barricade around two quarantined homes was dismantled. The latest unrest comes after demonstrators last week accused the health department of negligence at a local hospital that saw Jalloh as an outpatient before she died.
On Wednesday, health officials in Sierra Leone confirmed a new case of Ebola, its second in less then a week. The latest outbreak marks a further setback in efforts to end the two-year West African epidemic, which has killed more than 11,300 people. According to health ministry spokesman Sidi Yahyah Tunis, the new patient is a 38-year-old woman who is a relative who had helped care for the earlier victim, Mariatu Jalloh. Jalloh died from the disease on 12 January and tested positive for Ebola posthumously.
On 15 January, Sierra Leone officials confirmed a death of Ebola, just hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the latest West Africa outbreak over.
According to an Ebola test centre spokesman, tests on a person who died in northern Sierra Leone proved positive. Sidi Yahya Tunis disclosed that the death occurred earlier this week and that the patient had died in the Tonkolili district, adding he had travelled there from Kambia, which is located close to the border with Guinea. The victim was a 22-year-old female student. According to district medical officer Augustine Junisa, “the victims was taken ill when she was on holidays in Bamoi Luma and was taken to Magburaka, where her relatives took her to the government hospital for medical attention…Three days later she died at home and her death was reported to the hospital officials and initial swap test was taken which proved positive.” Sources have reported that health officials are now urgently seeking those who had come into contact with the victim.
Sierra Leone was declared free of the virus on 7 November 2015, and the region as a whole was cleared when Liberia was pronounced Ebola-free on 14 January. While the WHO has warned that flare-ups are expected, Friday’s announcement of a new case in the region is a setback for the area. Already, ten other flare-ups have taken place in areas where the spread of Ebola was thought to have ended, effectively raising new questions about WHO procedures in assessing whether the epidemic was really over. On Friday, the UN Health agency reported that Sierra Leone’s government was moving rapidly in order to contain the new threat, noting however that it was not immediately clear how the 22-year-old woman may have contracted Ebola as all known transmission chains in that country were halted in November.
Timeline of Ebola Epidemic in West Africa
Below are key dates in the latest Ebola epidemic, which is the worst outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever, which first surfaced in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to the latest toll released by the WHO, the epidemic has left more than 11,300 dead, mainly in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Almost 29,000 cases were reported during the outbreak.
Epidemic Starts in Guinea:
- December 2013: A one-year-old baby dies in southern Guinea and is later identified as “patient zero.” The virus remains localized until February 2014, when a care worker in a neighbouring province dies.
Ebola Begins to Spread in West Africa:
- 31 March 2014 – Two cases are confirmed by the WHO in Liberia, while on 26 May, Sierra Leone confirms its first case, to be followed in late July by Nigeria, in August by Senegal and in October by Mali. Senegal and Nigeria are declared free of Ebola in October 2014 while Mali is declared Ebola-free in January 2015.
Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone Cut Off From The World:
- 30 May 2015 – According to the aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola is “out of control.” The three worst-hit countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – declare measures that include states of emergency and quarantines. Many neighbouring states close their borders with the affected countries.
A ‘Public Health Emergency’:
- 8 August 2014 – The WHO declares Ebola a “public health emergency of international concern.” Four days later, it authorizes the use of experimental drugs in order to fight Ebola after an ethical debate. That day, a Spanish missionary infected in Liberia dies in Madrid, becoming the first European fatality.
Death in the US:
- 30 September 2014 – A Liberian man is hospitalized in the US state of Texas, effectively becoming the first Ebola infection to be diagnosed outside of Africa. He dies on 8 October.
- 6 October 2014 – A Spanish nurse in a Madrid hospital becomes the first person to be infected outside Africa. She is treated and released on 19 October.
Ebola Begins a Halting Retreat:
- 22 February 2015 – Liberia says it is lifting nationwide curfews and re-opening borders, as the epidemic begins to retreat.
- 26 February 2015 – The US ends its military mission in West Africa, where it deployed 2,800 soldiers in order to fight against Ebola. Soldiers were mainly deployed to Liberia.
Closing in on a Vaccine:
- 10 July 2015 – International donors pledge US $3.4 billion in order to help stamp out Ebola.
- 31 July 2015 – The WHO says an Ebola vaccine provided 100-percent protection in a field trial in Guinea, suggesting that the world is “on the verge of an effective Ebola vaccine.”
Hardest-hit Countries Emerge from the Epidemic:
- 9 May and 3 September 2015 – Liberia is declared Ebola-free by the WHO after no new cases were recorded for 42 days. However the declarations are followed by a resurgence of the virus. On 4 December, Liberia releases from hospital its last two known Ebola cases.
- 7 November 2015 – Sierra Leone is declared free of the outbreak by the WHO.
- 29 December – The WHO declares Guinea’s Ebola outbreak over, six weeks after the recovery of its last known patient, a three-week old girl who was born with the virus.
According to health officials, the last known Ebola patient in Guinea has recovered and has been released from a treatment centre in the capital Conakry.
A spokesman for the country’s Ebola co-ordination unit has disclosed that two tests on the patient, a baby, had come back negative. Fode Tass Sylla has disclosed that “the baby is negative and so Guinea today is without a single Ebola patient,” adding, “we are crossing our fingers and praying that nothing will happen over the next 42 days so that we can celebrate Guinea without Ebola.”
Authorities have effectively begun the countdown to the end of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, which is the last country that was still reporting cases after nearly two years and more than 11,000 deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) declares that Ebola disease transmission has ended when the country goes through two incubation periods, 21 days each, without a new case emerging. The other two countries hardest hit by the outbreak, Liberia and Sierra Leone, have already been declared free of the deadly disease, however in Guinea, authorities have reported that they continued to face resistance in fearful communities, where people initially blamed international health workers for bringing the virus to their region.