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World Health Organisation declares Liberia free of Ebola

Published 14/01/2016

The Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has left 11,000 people dead
The Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has left 11,000 people dead

The World Health Organisation has formally announced the end of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

The country joins Sierra Leone and Guinea - the epicentres of the latest outbreak - as Ebola-free.

Rick Brennan, the WHO's director of emergency risk assessment and humanitarian response, said it was "a good day, an important day" thanks to the announcement.

Mr Brennan noted a "general acknowledgement" that the WHO was slow to react at the start of the outbreak, which has left 11,000 people dead.

But WHO also cautioned that the world cannot yet be fully declared free of the disease.

Liberia was first declared free of the disease last May, but new cases emerged two times - forcing officials there to restart the clock.

"While this is an important milestone and a very important step forward, we have to say that the job is still not done," said Mr Brennan. "That's because there is still ongoing risk of re-emergence of the disease because of persistence of the virus in a proportion of survivors."

Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO's special representative for the Ebola Response, said: "The risk of re-introduction of infection is diminishing as the virus gradually clears from the survivor population, but we still anticipate more flare-ups and must be prepared for them."

Mr Brennan said the virus can persist in the body fluids of some survivors - and importantly, in the semen of male survivors for a period of up to 12 months. He said WHO estimates that there are about 1,200 survivors in Guinea, 5,000 in Sierra Leone and 4,000 in Liberia.

The virulent disease first emerged in rural Guinea in December 2013, then spread to the country's capital and across borders to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Cases also popped up in Mali, Senegal and Nigeria though transmission chains there were quickly shut down.

A Liberian man who travelled to the United States in October 2014 fell ill and died in Texas of Ebola. No other cases emerged there, though his death sparked widespread panic in the United States.

The WHO and others have been roundly criticised for responding too slowly at the beginning of the outbreak. WHO officials say they are carrying out numerous reforms in the wake of the epidemic.

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