WHO Declares Guinea Free Of Ebola
Guinea has been declared free of Ebola by the World Health Organization (WHO), two years after the epidemic began there.
Guineans are expected to celebrate the landmark with concerts and fireworks.
The disease killed more than 2,500 people in the country and a further 9,000 in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola in November, but new cases have emerged in Liberia, which had been declared Ebola-free in September.
A country is considered free of human-to-human transmission once two 21-day incubation periods have passed since the last known case tested negative for a second time.
“It’s the best year-end present that God could give to Guinea, and the best news that Guineans could hope for,” said Ebola survivor Alama Kambou Dore, quoted by AFP news agency.
Local health workers echoed a warning from medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres that vigilance was still vital despite the mood of celebration.
“We have to be very careful, because even if open transmission has been stopped, the disease has not been totally defeated,” said Alpha Seny Souhmah, a Guinean health worker and Ebola survivor.
This is another major milestone in the bumpy road to the end of the worst Ebola outbreak in history. It all started in Guinea when the virus emerged, probably from fruit bats, in a rural community deep in the forest.
Guinea saw far fewer cases than neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, yet the virus has been circulating there for longer than anywhere else.
I remember travelling through Guinea at the height of the outbreak, and there was still a lot of denial about Ebola; people told me it was a made-up disease. Suspicion is still rife in some communities, and many simply don’t trust their government.
Ebola has made a comeback in Liberia after the country twice declared the end of the epidemic, and there is every possibility it could return to Guinea. It will be up to communities that keep the killer virus at bay, by reporting suspicious deaths and encouraging loved ones to seek treatment if they show symptoms of Ebola.
But medical facilities also need to respond quickly, which will happen for the extra 90-day “heightened surveillance” period. A key question is what will happen after that, particularly for the thousands of Ebola survivors who are still facing health problems.
More than 100 health workers also lost their lives in the fight against the disease.
Many survivors still live in fear of the stigma and long-term side effects associated with the virus.
The government in Guinea has blamed the virus for poor economic performance and says it has also caused people to distrust the country’s health services.
President Alpha Conde has doubled the health budget since winning re-election in October.