Thousands of people gathered in the streets of the capital city of Freetown just before midnight Friday in anticipation of the announcement. WHO had said Tuesday that the decisive blood test had come back negative in September, and if no further cases were reported, Saturday would mark the end of Sierra Leone’s battle with Ebola.
The BBC’s Tulip Mazumdar described the scene:
Women’s groups came together to organise a march through the city centre; the final point was a 600-year-old cotton tree which sits on a huge roundabout. Usually, the area is jammed with cars, but last night it was packed with people. Some held up candles, others jumped around dancing and a military band led the procession through the city.
There were waves of celebrations, and then silence as names of some of the dead were beamed on to a screen. Health workers in particular were honoured for their bravery and sacrifice, they were some of the first to die when Ebola struck.
And Lisa O’Carroll and Umaru Fofana, for The Guardian:
A speech by Yusuf Kamara, a healthcare worker who lost 16 members of his family and survived the disease himself, brought tears and a standing ovation. “For us, Ebola is not over. We need your help to treat the many, many health problems we still suffer from. And remember those who died at the hands of Ebola, and especially the children who have been affected by this outbreak,” he said.
The first diagnosis of Ebola in Sierra Leone was confirmed in May 2014 in a rural part of the country, and a surge of cases followed in June. WHO has traced the sudden spike to the May 10 funeral of a traditional healer who had treated Ebola patients from Guinea:
That funeral sparked a chain reaction of more cases, more deaths, more funerals, and more cases in multiple transmission chains. Local epidemiologists eventually traced 365 Ebola-related deaths to that single funeral, which also seeded cases reported in Liberia.
By mid-July, dozens of people were dying each week in Sierra Leone. Sheik Humarr Khan, the country’s only expert on viral hemorrhagic fevers, died of the disease after treating patients. In August, President Ernest Bai Koroma declared a national state of emergency. Whole villages were quarantined. A new law threatened anyone found to be hiding a patient with up to two years in jail.
By winter, the disease had spread to cities. Nearly 400 new cases were reported in the first week of December alone, three times as many as in Liberia and Guinea combined, according to WHO.
Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone had never seen a case of Ebola until the outbreak began in March 2014—the worst since the virus was first discovered in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. The disease crippled the countries’ already fragile health infrastructures, weakened by years of political instability and war. Transmission of the virus was poorly understood by the local populations, and public-health workers rushed to draft guidelines. Volunteers went door-to-door to hand out pamphlets about practicing good hygiene, and worked with cell-phone companies to send text messages in local languages.