Senegal: Officially Ebola-Free
Here's what the West African nation's apparent triumph over the virus could tell us about containing it.
On Friday, as the White House made the essentially symbolic gesture of appointing a "czar" to contain the American outbreak, some 4,000 miles to the east, Senegal was declared free of Ebola by the World Health Organization. In a statement, the U.N. agency praised the West African country's response as "a good example of what to do when faced with an imported case of Ebola."
So how did Senegal, which neighbors Guinea—one of the countries hardest hit by the largest Ebola outbreak on record—manage to successfully contain the deadly virus? Here's how Ebola coursed into and then out of Senegal:
On August 29, the first case of Ebola was confirmed after a student, despite a closed border, traveled by road from Guinea to a hospital in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. According to The Guardian, the man sought treatment, but did not disclose that he might have Ebola. "The next day, an epidemiological surveillance team in Guinea told Senegalese authorities that they had lost track of a person who had had contact with sick people."
After the student was tracked to the hospital in Dakar, according to AP reports, Senegal's response next involved "identifying and monitoring 74 close contacts of the patient, prompt testing of all suspected cases, stepped-up surveillance at many entry points and public awareness campaigns."
Also of note, the high level of communication between the federal authorities and local leadership as well as the considered monitoring of those in contact with the patient. As Lauren Silva Laughlin wrote in Fortune:
All contacts, including health care workers, were subjected to 21-day monitoring. This included in-home voluntary quarantine. They were seen twice daily by Red Cross volunteers. Symptoms and temperatures were recorded twice daily. Food was provided.
She adds that for those contacts who sought to avoid working with the Red Cross, local hospitals were brought in, which was said to have boosted compliance.
The WHO did give this caveat in its statement on Friday: "While the outbreak is now officially over, Senegal's geographical position makes the country vulnerable to additional imported cases of Ebola virus disease."
Nevertheless, as the country garners praise for its response, a national effort to train health workers before the first Ebola case was even confirmed leaves the country well-poised to handle any future cases.
Senegal isn't the only success case. Nigeria, which has had nearly two dozen Ebola cases and a handful of deaths, is also said to be nearly free of Ebola. Should things hold steady there until Monday, it will also be declared Ebola-free.