WHO Declares End to Ebola

WHO Declares End to EbolaWHO Declares End to Ebola

The World Health Organization declared an end to the deadliest Ebola outbreak ever on Thursday after no new cases emerged in Liberia, although health officials warn that it will be several more months before the world is considered free of the disease that claimed more than 11,300 lives over two years.

Nearly 23,000 children lost at least one parent or caregiver to the disease and 17,000 survivors are trying to resume their lives though many battle mysterious, lingering side effects. Studies continue to uncover new information about how long Ebola can last in bodily fluids, reports AP.

Liberia, which along with Sierra Leone and Guinea was an epicenter of the latest outbreak, was first declared free of the disease last May, but new cases emerged twice.

“While this is an important milestone and a very important step forward, we have to say that the job is still not done,” said Rick Brennan, WHO director of emergency risk assessment and humanitarian response, at a news conference in Geneva. “That’s because there is still an ongoing risk of reemergence of the disease because of the persistence of the virus in a proportion of survivors.”

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the announcement and urged the international community to continue supporting the affected countries so they can respond to any new flare-ups. He said the UN “will stand firm with Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the entire region, as they move ahead along the path towards social and economic recovery.”

In Liberia, there was guarded optimism about reaching the 42-day benchmark with no new cases. The health ministry is still carrying out Ebola tests on bodies before burial, and remains on the lookout for any suspicious cases.

There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola, which spread rapidly through the impoverished, crowded neighborhoods of Liberia and Sierra Leone’s capitals in particular. Experimental treatments emerged during the outbreak but were limited in supply; those who received supportive care had much higher survival rates but beds at treatment centers initially were hard to come by.

The WHO and others have been roundly criticized for responding too slowly at the beginning of the outbreak, a fumbling that experts say ultimately cost lives across West Africa.

“I think there’s been general acknowledgement that WHO and the international community were slow at the start of this outbreak and there is no question that the disease did get away from us all collectively, and in retrospect there are a number of things that we would have done better and sooner,” Brennan said.

WHO has said that major soul-searching and reforms have taken place as a result.