Liberia, the West African nation where Ebola killed the most people in the largest outbreak of the virus, has been declared free of the disease by the World Health Organization.
The notification by the Geneva-based WHO was received today, Liberia’s Ministry of Information said on its Twitter account Saturday. No new Ebola cases have been detected since the burial of the last victim 42 days ago, twice the incubation period.
“We are out of the woods. We are Ebola free,” the ministry said. “Thanks to our partners for standing with us in the fight against Ebola.”
The disease is still spreading in Sierra Leone and Guinea, though at a slower pace, encouraging the government efforts there to control the outbreak, which started in December 2013. More than 10,000 people have died, with about half of them in Liberia.
The three nations had about 500 doctors at the start of the outbreak and struggled to contain the disease amid a lack of medical infrastructure, decades of devastation from civil wars and shortages of medical personnel.
May 9 marks 42 days since the burial of the last confirmed Ebola victim in the West African nation, according to the Geneva-based WHO. That’s twice the longest-known incubation period for the virus, the marker for declaring the outbreak over in a country. Sierra Leone and Guinea are still reporting additional Ebola cases.
“It was remarkable when I was there last week to see children going off to school, and the early-morning energy of Monrovia like it used to be,” David Nabarro, appointed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to oversee the Ebola response, said in a telephone interview on Friday.
Ebola has killed 4,716 people of the 10,564 infected in Liberia, the WHO said in a report. The outbreak more than halved economic growth in the nation last year, as rubber exports slumped by 40 percent in the first three quarters and investors stayed away, according to the World Bank. Growth will be 3 percent this year, compared with an estimate of 6.8 percent before the outbreak, the bank said in a report in January.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will lead government officials on a tour of health facilities tomorrow. She will also visit the Ebola Command Center, where a ceremony will be held during which WHO will declare Liberia free of the disease, according to Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah, the head of the country’s Ebola Incident Management System.
The country will have to remain vigilant, Nabarro said, because in previous outbreaks there has been a 50 percent recurrence of cases within a year.
The number of new Ebola infections has slowed in recent weeks. Since the outbreak began last year, Sierra Leone has reported the highest number of cases, with 12,440, and 3,903 deaths, according to WHO data up to May 3. Guinea has the worst survival rate, with 3,589 cases and 2,386 deaths.