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Liberians breathe sigh of relief as country declared ‘Ebola-free’

© Pascal Guyot, AFP | Over 4,700 people died in one year in Liberia because of the Ebola epidemic

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-05-09

In bright green sunglasses and a catchy tempo to match, Henry Toe offered a snappy farewell to Ebola, a disease that had ravaged the West African nation of Liberia.

He rapped a song.

“Ebola it’s time for you to go back, you have shown yourself enough alright? Bad sickness like you, you brought more fear. We giving you back, we’re not even scared,” Toe rapped.

Liberia was declared free from Ebola on Saturday after 42 days without a new case, the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said, but it urged vigilance until the virus was extinguished in neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

A total of 11,005 people have died from Ebola in this corner of Africa since the outbreak began in December 2013, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

'A GREAT DAY OF CELEBRATION IN LIBERIA'

Nearly half of those deaths have been in Liberia, where the outbreak peaked between August and October, with hundreds of cases a week, sparking international alarm. The United States sent in troops to help build treatment clinics in the country founded by freed US slaves.

Helped by the visible US military presence, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government launched a national awareness campaign to stem the disease, which is spread by physical contact with infected people, from spreading.

Now with Liberia being declared Ebola free, residents breathed a sigh of relief.

“I am happy that once more Liberians can be able to shake hands,” said Ivor S. Moore, a student. “You know it is our culture, we like to hug people, we like to shake hands. We like to eat in the same bowl with our friends and family.”

In an Ebola treatment unit in the Liberian capital of Monrovia that saw hundreds of patients at the height of the epidemic, no new cases have been brought to their doors in over two months.

Although health workers still follow protocol by wearing protective equipment, they are now getting ready to dismantle the facility.

‘Can’t take our foot off the gas’

MSF said that Liberia’s completion of the WHO’s benchmark for the end of an Ebola epidemic -- 42 days without a new case, marking twice the maximum incubation period of the virus -- should not lead to complacency.

“We can’t take our foot off the gas until all three countries record 42 days with no cases,” said Mariateresa Cacciapuoti, MSF’s head of mission in Liberia.

She urged Liberia to step up cross-border surveillance to prevent Ebola slipping back into the country.

Other officials underscored the assessment.

“The virus is not yet out of the region, and as long as the virus is in the region we’re still, all of us, potentially at risk,” Peter Graaff, United Nations Ebola crisis manager for Liberia told FRANCE 24.

“As long as our brothers and sisters in the other countries continue to be affected and in some cases die, there’s no reason to celebrate. However, it is going to be an important moment for Liberia in terms of getting back to a normal path.”

The UN Special Envoy on Ebola, David Nabarro, said this week that Liberian authorities had pledged to maintain heightened surveillance for at least a year after being declared Ebola-free on Saturday.

Nabarro suggested that, even though fewer than 20 new cases were reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone last week, it could take months to get to zero.

International aid organisations were forced to step in as the Ebola outbreak ravaged the region’s poorly equipped and understaffed healthcare systems.

MSF -- which was highly critical of the slow response by the UN and western governments - opened the world’s largest Ebola management centre in the Liberian capital Monrovia last year, with a capacity of 400 beds.

Since then, efforts have paid off and news of an Ebola free Liberia was met with elation on the capital's streets.

“I’m very joyous right now, I feel very glad, I’m happy. I am overjoyed in fact, I’m overwhelmed,” Henry Toe, the rapper, said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2015-05-09

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