On Thursday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced that the national state of emergency had come to an end, citing huge advances in the country’s fight against Ebola. In her national address, Sirleaf was sure to make it clear that the fight is not over, but that Liberia appears to be in a good position to gain control of the outbreak soon.
On Sunday, Sirleaf announced a national target to stop all new cases of Ebola by Dec. 25. Liberia, the nation hardest hit by the virus, had at least 2,812 deaths among the 5,165 cases spread between Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition to Sunday’s announcement, Sirleaf named the new health minister, George Warner, who will be replacing Walter Gwenigale.
According to The New York Times, Monrovia, Liberia’s capital became the virus’ breading ground in August and an unfortunate historic site: the first urban center threatened by the virus since its discovery in 1976. Sirleaf declared a state of emergency and curfews and Ebola quarantines were implemented, a move that regularly did not end well. Entire communities were placed under quarantine, and a 15-year-old boy was killed after armed forces fired at residents resisting the quarantine.
One of the reasons for the slowing of the outbreak could be a new approach from the WHO regarding burial procedures. Dr. Pierre Formenty, an Ebola expert with the WHO said that 20 percent of new infections occur during the burial of deceased Ebola patients. Formenty said the WHO’s burial team is focusing on bringing respect and safety together by observing traditional burials, while still implementing safety procedures.
Ebola infections during burial came as a result of certain rituals involving touching or washing the body of the deceased and distributing the patient’s personal items to members of the community. Corpses of those who fall to the disease are still contagious and items they touch after becoming infected can also carry the virus. The new burial protocol was developed by an interdisciplinary team at the WHO alongside multiple faith-based organizations to provide dignified burials while mitigating the risk of infection. The United Nations (UN) hopes to have 70 percent of patients undergoing treatment and 70 percent of bodies safely buried by Dec. 1.
A UN report on Friday showed that Ebola cases in Liberia, though still down, were beginning to pick back up. Dr. Bruce Aylward of the WHO warned Liberians that the increase in cases may be from the country’s relaxed guard and reminded the nation not to let the virus hide. Aylward said if the virus is not hunted it will return quickly. Dr. Martin Friende at the WHO in Geneva said that vaccine testing is underway, but drug testing has yielded few results and the possibility of finding an effective drug soon does not look promising.
In the course of Sirleaf’s announcement to the end of an emergency state, the president said that Liberia will not be Ebola free until its neighbors are and the nation must remain vigilant, reports Aljazeera. While the number of cases in Guinea and Liberia is dropping, the WHO reports a steep increase in Ebola cases in Sierra Leone.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa