Liberia almost clear of Ebola after last patient is discharged from care

Liberia almost clear of Ebola after last patient is discharged from care

West African country must now wait 42 days to be judged free of Ebola after the release of Beatrice Yardolo and with no new cases reported for a week

Thursday 5 March 2015 13.44 GMT Last modified on Friday 6 March 2015 00.07 GMT

Liberia released its last Ebola patient on Thursday, a 58-year-old English teacher who described herself as “one of the happiest persons on Earth today”.

The discharging of Beatrice Yardolo – who had spent 15 days in a Chinese-run Ebola treatment centre in the Paynesville district of the Liberian capital, Monrovia – brings the west African country a step closer to declaring itself clear of Ebola.

Liberia’s deputy health minister, Tolbert Nyenswah, said there were no other confirmed cases of Ebola in the country. Yardolo’s release means Liberia can now begin the 42-day waiting period, at the end of which it could be judged Ebola-free according to World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols and standards.

The WHO confirmed on Wednesday that Liberia had gone a full week without reporting any new cases of the disease.

Since the outbreak began in December 2013, 23,969 people in nine countries have been infected with the virus, and 9,807 of them have died, according to the latest figures.

Six months ago, Liberia – which has recorded 9,249 cases of Ebola, including 4,117 deaths – was reporting 300 new cases a week.

At the height of the epidemic in a country where the health infrastructure had been ravaged by two back-to-back civil wars, overflowing health clinics had to turn away people, often to die on the streets. But a huge national and international response helped stem the spread.

Of 45 samples tested nationwide last week, none were positive, the WHO said, adding that it was the first time there had been no new confirmed cases since 26 May 2014.

The outlook was less positive in the other countries affected by the outbreak, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which jointly reported 132 new confirmed cases last week.

Sierra Leone, which counts the most cases in total at 11,466, including 3,546 deaths, registered 81 new confirmed cases last week, up from 65 the week before.

Transmission in the country “remains widespread”, the WHO warned, pointing out that new cases had emerged in eight different districts across the country, with rising numbers in Freetown, the Western Rural district and in the northern district of Bombali.

The outbreak in Bombali was reportedly linked to a cluster of cases in the Aberdeen fishing community in Freetown, and the WHO said efforts were under way to track more than 2,000 contacts associated with that cluster.

The 51 new confirmed cases registered in Guinea last week also marked a significant increase on the 35 fresh cases reported during the previous seven-day period.

Guinea, which in total has had 3,219 Ebola cases and 2,129 deaths, also had a marked hike in new cases in the capital Conakry and in nearby Forécariah, the WHO said.

Massive efforts and funds have been poured into the fight to rid the three west African countries of the Ebola scourge, and a major aim has been to ensure that all those infected are isolated and cared for in treatment centres. Ensuring safe burials of the highly contagious bodies has also been a priority.

But Sierra Leone and Guinea continued to see high numbers of deaths from Ebola in their communities, “suggesting that the need for early isolation and treatment is not yet understood, accepted or acted upon”, the WHO warned.

More than half of the 32 confirmed Ebola deaths in Guinea last week happened in the community, rather than treatment units, while 16% did in Sierra Leone.

Unsafe burials also continue to be a problem in the two countries, with 16 registered last week alone.

Although the epidemic appears to be drawing to a close, there are fears that the true number of victims could be substantially greater than official estimates.

“Even though statistics show that over 9,000 people died of Ebola, our volunteers on the ground were called on to bury 14,000, which means that many more died from Ebola,” Mohammed El-hadj Assy, the the secretary general of the Red Cross, told a conference on the Ebola crisis in Brussels on Tuesday.

Many of those attending the conference echoed calls for a Marshall plan to help the affected countries recover from Ebola – and pleaded for the international community to honour its existing pledges.

Despite a massive aid effort, the UN operation against the disease is still facing a $900m shortfall. Less than half of the $5.1bn pledged to counter the epidemic has so far been disbursed.

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