The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Guinea to be free of Ebola, two years after the outbreak started in the country and eventually spread to other West African countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Forty-two days have passed since the last person confirmed to have Ebola virus disease tested negative for the second time, the UN agency said in a statement on Tuesday.
Guinea would remain under a 90-day period of heightened surveillance to ensure that any new cases are identified quickly so that the virus can be prevented from spreading further.
The announcement comes as a huge relief for Guinea, one of the poorest countries in world. The West-African country shot to global prominence as the home to the outbreak’s first victim – a two-year old boy. The virus then spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone – and, in isolated or sporadic cases, to another seven countries.
“This is the first time that all three countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – have stopped the original chains of transmission that were responsible for starting this devastating outbreak two years ago,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Because of Ebola’s unusually long incubation period, with the time from infection to visible symptoms sometimes lasting weeks, declaring an end to the virus has proven problematic. Liberia is now the only country still awaiting a declared end to the epidemic – although it has reached the WHO’s 42-day watermark before, only to register new cases. Without any further positive Ebola tests, Liberia would be declared clear again on January 14, 2016.
The virus claimed more than 11,000 lives, from the nearly 29,000 recorded cases, according to WHO figures from December 20. More than 2,500 people died in Guinea alone.
‘Best year-end present’
“It’s the best year-end present that God could give to Guinea, and the best news that Guineans could hope for,” Alama Kambou Dore, an Ebola survivor, told the AFP news agency. “From 2013 to 2015, Guineans suffered, they lived and survived, they endured, they were stigmatized, rejected, even humiliated because of this disease, which leapt out of nowhere.”
The WHO said there had been 10 new small Ebola outbreaks or flares in the region between March and November this year but they appeared to have been due to the re-emergence of a persistent virus from among the survivors. The Ebola virus may persist in the semen of some male survivors for as long as 9-12 months.
“The coming months will be absolutely critical,” said Dr Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s special representative for the Ebola response. “This is the period when the countries need to be sure that they are fully prepared to prevent, detect and respond to any new cases.”
Aylward added that the persistence of the virus in survivors may give rise to new Ebola cases in 2016.