For the first time since the Ebola outbreak was declared in Sierra Leone, the country has recorded zero new infections.There were no new Ebola cases reported last week according to the WHO.
At the height of the outbreak Sierra Leone was reporting more than 500 new cases a week. Last week, for the first time since May last year, there were zero new cases.
But authorities are warning against complacency.
OB Sisay, Director of the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC), said: “This does not mean Sierra Leone is suddenly Ebola free.
“As long as we have one Ebola case we still have an epidemic. People should continue to take the public health measures… around hand-washing, temperature checks, enhanced screening.”
In Sierra Leone currently:
- two Ebola patients are still being treated
- 81 people who have been in contact with infected patients are being monitored by authorities
- four contacts are currently missing, according to the World Health Organization
Restrictions on public gatherings, travel and trade have been eased in the last couple of weeks. Nightclubs and theatres have re-opened and markets are allowed to stay open for longer.
“People are really happy,” said OB Sisay.
“The jubilations haven’t started yet because we are constantly on the radio saying it’s not over yet, but people are extremely pleased that they are [starting to] see the end of this.”
Officially though, the end of the outbreak will only be declared six weeks after the last Ebola patient either dies or tests negative for the virus. Whilst neighbouring Guinea continues to report a small number of cases, this final goal remains out of reach.
Guinea identified three new infections last week. Liberia has been on zero new cases since 23 July.
On Friday, President Ernest Bai Koroma lifted the quarantine on one of the last villages to be cordoned off to help stop the spread of the virus, marking the moment as the beginning of the end of the outbreak in Sierra Leone.
- Over 11,000 people have died from Ebola since the epidemic erupted in 2014 – a six-fold increase of victims since its discovery in 1976.
- The World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international emergency on 8 August 2014 – more than seven months after it began.
- Some scientists say there’s a risk the virus may become an ever-present disease in West African society.
Timeline: How we lost control of the Ebola virus
The World Health Organization said the use of rapid response teams and strong community involvement in tracing sick people and their close contacts is helping to finally bring an end to the outbreak.
It said the focus is now on tracking each and every chain of Ebola virus transmission, and closing them down as quickly as possible.
Tracking chains of transmission means finding every single person who has been in contact with someone infected with Ebola, monitoring them closely for 21 days and then quickly moving them to a treatment centre if they develop symptoms.
Dr Anders Nordstrom, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone said: “We have to keep doing this intensive working with communities to identify potential new cases early and to rapidly stop any Ebola virus transmission.
“It’s important for Sierra Leone that we have come this far, but it’s not over for the region until we are at zero for 42 days in all three countries.”