The UN health agency said today Ebola-ravaged Sierra Leone had beaten an 18-month outbreak that killed almost 4,000 of its people and plunged the economy into severe recession.
“Today, November 7, 2015, the World Health Organisation declares the end of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone,” Anders Nordstrom, the UN agency’s country representative told a ceremony in the capital Freetown, provoking prolonged cheering from the gathered dignitaries.
The former British colony recorded around half of the cases in an epidemic that has infected 28,600 people across the three hardest-hit west African nations and claimed 11,300 lives since December 2013.
Experts agree that the real death toll is almost certainly significantly higher than the official data, which has been skewed by the under-reporting of deaths in many probable Ebola cases.
The announcement represents a hugely significant milestone in UN-backed efforts to wipe out Ebola, leaving neighbouring Guinea as the only country still registering cases.
With just a handful of cases a week arising in that country in recent months, health campaigners are hopeful the battle with history’s worst outbreak is almost won.
Save the Children has sounded the alarm however over the long-term impact on 1.8 million children in Sierra Leone who missed nine months of school, pointing to a “significant spike in adolescent pregnancies”.
The crisis took a devastating toll on primary health services and immunisation programmes, with the deaths of 221 medical staff — five per cent of frontline doctors and seven per cent of nurses and midwives.
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.
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