The campaign to eliminate the Ebola virus marked a significant milestone on Saturday, as the World Health Organization declared that Liberia was free of the disease. The announcement came 42 days after the safe burial of the last confirmed Liberian victim of the Ebola, a period equal to twice the virus’s incubation period.
The news was met with jubilation in Liberia, which along with Sierra Leone and Guinea was the country most affected by the virus. But officials tempered their joy with a note of caution.
“Let us celebrate, but stay mindful and vigilant,” said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president.
Since the epidemic began last March, 10,564 people across Liberia contracted Ebola, nearly 250 out of every 100,000 people in the country, and 4,716 died. But the human toll still understates the sheer scope of the damage incurred by Liberia, one of Africa’s most impoverished countries.
Ebola exposed glaring deficiencies in Liberia’s public health system, where there are few qualified doctors and most hospitals lack access to electricity and clean water. In the early stages of the crisis, workers at Liberia’s clinics treated patients without adequate precaution, inadvertently spreading the disease. Private hospitals turned many patients away, and at the height of the outbreak Liberians reported seeing Ebola victims die on the street. Altogether, 189 medical workers in Liberia lost their lives to Ebola.