Sierra Leone emerges from Ebola nightmare

Freetown: The Ebola epidemic is expected to be declared over in Sierra Leone on Saturday, when the west African nation will have gone 42 days without any new infections.


But jubilation over ending the outbreak in the impoverished nation, where almost 4,000 deaths have been reported, has been tempered by caution, with neighbouring Guinea still battling the virus.

Ebola was found in a 25-year-old pregnant Guinean woman and two of her children in Forecariah district, near the Sierra Leone border, in mid-October.

Her baby was delivered during her treatment and also tested positive, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in the latest of its weekly updates on the crisis on Wednesday.

Guinea is now monitoring 382 possible contacts, 141 of them deemed “high risk”, it said.

Palo Conteh, the head of Sierra Leone´s Ebola response, told a news conference in Freetown on Wednesday there were no plans for “an elaborate celebration”.

Instead, the WHO will deliver a formal declaration in the capital on Saturday of the end of the epidemic.

“I feel proud that I was, with the support of my staff, able to save the nation from the virus. If I had not tackled Ebola with my team, the nation would have perished,” he told AFP.

“We have to be vigilant as it is not the end of Ebola but the end of the current outbreak. We have fought the disease and we have won.”

Since emerging in December 2013, the worst outbreak of Ebola in history has infected a reported 28,500 people, with 11,300 deaths registered.

The real toll is widely believed to be significantly higher than the official data, however, with under-reporting of probable Ebola cases rife in the early stages.

Saturday´s announcement marks the official end of a battle which was prematurely thought to have been nearing its conclusion on previous occasions.

President Ernest Bai Koroma led a festive ceremony on August 24 celebrating the discharge of Sierra Leone´s last known patient but the optimism was shattered by the deaths of a 67-year-old woman and, two weeks later, a 16-year-old girl.

The 42-day countdown began again after the last case was confirmed free of Ebola after a second consecutive negative test on September 25.