Sierra Leone declared free of Ebola, as Guinea struggles
Cheers erupted and people danced in the streets Saturday as Sierra Leone marked the end of the Ebola outbreak within its borders, although neighbouring Guinea still struggles to stamp out the deadly virus that has killed more than 11,000, mostly in West Africa.
Nearly 4,000 people have died in Sierra Leone of Ebola since the outbreak began in late 2013. The World Health Organization (WHO) said 42 days have passed since the country's last confirmed Ebola patient was discharged on September 25 after two consecutive negative test results.
Hundreds of people celebrated in the streets of the capital, Freetown, when Anders Nordstrom, Sierra Leone representative for the World Health Organization, declared the end of the Ebola outbreak.
"WHO commends the government and people of Sierra Leone for the significant achievement of ending this Ebola outbreak," he said.
A country must go 42 days - equal to two 21-day incubation periods - without an Ebola case in order for WHO to declare it free of Ebola transmission. It's a benchmark that neighbouring Liberia reached in May, only to then experience a brief reappearance of cases before it was declared Ebola-free again in September.
Sierra Leone now enters a 90-day intensive surveillance period.
"We have prevailed over an evil virus. We persevered, and we have overcome. We must not let down our guard," said Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma.
Dead bodies will continue to be swabbed, and safe burials will continue for all suspicious cases, he said, adding that they will retain adequate laboratory capacity for tests. He said he is asking parliament to lift a state of emergency.
Juliet Spencer, a 31-year-old Ebola survivor, acknowledged the news with a heavy heart. She contracted the disease while taking care of her husband, who died in December.
"I feel good today that I have survived to see this day, witnessing this ceremony," she said. "My only regret is that I do not have a good health to carry on my business. I am unable to walk, I have joint pains and ear and eye problems." She said she wants more help from the government so she can return to work.
Guinea, where the epidemic began, now remains the only country struggling to rid itself of the disease. WHO has recorded seven new cases in neighbouring Guinea in the past 21 days.