The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday (14 January) announced the end of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. The country joins Guinea and Sierra Leone, the other epicentres of the latest outbreak, in being declared disease-free.
The announcement comes after Liberia went 42 days without any new Ebola cases. This is the benchmark that neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone crossed in November and December, respectively. The fight against Ebola began in December 2013, when the disease was first observed in Guinea. It reached its height in October 2014, after crossing the border into Sierra Leone and Liberia, sparking fears that the deadly disease would spread across the globe.
“This day one year ago, the end of the Ebola epidemic may have seemed unimaginable,” Christos Stylianides, the EU’s Ebola coordinator and Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said in a statement.
“But thanks to the effort of health workers, ordinary people, and governments in the three affected countries, combined with an unprecedented international response, the fight against the disease has been won. I want to pay tribute to all those involved for months to bring the cases to zero, an achievement to celebrate,” he added.
The European Union’s response to the Ebola epidemic included medical supplies, laboratories and epidemiologists. The EU also put in place medical evacuation facilities for all international health workers in the region.
In total, member states contributed €2 billion in humanitarian aid, technical expertise, longer-term development assistance and research into vaccines and treatments.
However, Stylianides pointed out that the crisis is not over as, when it comes to Ebola, re-infection is a high risk.
The Commissioner also emphasised that the international system needs to fix failures such as the inadequacy of the response to the disease in the early months of 2014. Therefore, the Euorpean Union wants to set up a European Medical Corps through which medical teams and equipment from member states can be deployed swiftly in case of health emergencies.
“It is also more important than ever to help the three countries rebuild and strengthen their health systems and to invest in effective and resilient alert and response mechanisms. These are essential requirements to prevent any future outbreak from spreading. The EU’s commitment to support the affected countries remains firm. We will stand by Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for as long as it takes,” Stylianides said.
The Ebola virus is a severe, often fatal, illness in humans, according to the WHO. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. The average Ebola case fatality rate is around 50%.
The current outbreak in West Africa, with the first cases recorded in March 2014, is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976.