Guinea has entered a 90-day period of enhanced surveillance to ensure that any new Ebola cases are found quickly.
More than 2,500 of the 11,300 people killed by the outbreak died in the West African state; the others died in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it has been 42 days since the last person in Guinea confirmed to have the disease tested negative for Ebola virus for a second time.
The patient – a baby girl, thought to be the outbreak’s youngest survivor – was discharged from hospital at the end of November, 2 weeks after testing negative for Ebola virus for a second time, triggering the countdown toward Guinea’s Ebola-free status.
The announcement was followed by news of ceremonies planned for Wednesday, officiated by President Alpha Conde, accompanied by representatives from donor countries and organizations that helped resource the frontline response to the crisis, such as the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
Alama Kambou Dore, an Ebola survivor, told AFP:
“It’s the best year-end present that God could give to Guinea, and the best news that Guineans could hope for.”
In addition to celebrating the important milestone, the ceremonies will pay tribute to the 115 health workers who gave their lives fighting Ebola and the eight members of an Ebola education team who were killed by hostile residents of Womey, a village in southeast Guinea.
Important milestone for West Africa’s Ebola fight
Guinea has now entered a 90-day period of enhanced surveillance to ensure that any new cases are found quickly before the disease can spread to other people.
Dr. Mohamed Belhocine, WHO representative in the West African country, says the UN health agency commends Guinea’s government and people on their significant achievement in ending their Ebola outbreak.
He adds that efforts to support Guinea over the enhanced surveillance period will continue, and also beyond as the country rebuilds its health system in 2016.
Ending Ebola transmission in Guinea marks an important milestone in the West African outbreak, as Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, explains:
“This is the first time that all three countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – have stopped the original chains of transmission that were responsible for starting this devastating outbreak 2 years ago.”
However, he emphasizes the need to “stay vigilant” to rapidly stop any new “flares” in 2016.
Monitoring and helping Ebola survivors
In addition to the original chain of transmission – which began in Gueckedou, Guinea in late December 2013 – there have been 10 “flares,” or new small outbreaks, of Ebola between March and November 2015.
The Ebola flares appear to have started in survivors, who face many challenges as the virus can persist in their bodies for many months, even when it has cleared from the bloodstream.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, who is special representative of the director-general for the Ebola Response at the WHO, says:
“The coming months will be absolutely critical. This is the period when the countries need to be sure that they are fully prepared to prevent, detect and respond to any new cases.”
As well as keeping surveillance and outbreak response teams in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone through 2016, WHO and their partners will work with the governments of the three countries to support the thousands of survivors of Ebola virus disease.
They will help with medical care and psychological support, screening for persistent virus, plus provide counseling to help Ebola survivors return to their families and communities, and education to reduce stigma and minimize the risk of spreading the virus.
The support will be essential to help the three countries maintain their capacity to respond to any flare-ups of Ebola while they also focus on rebuilding their health sectors and restart public health programs, particularly in maternal and child health.
Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently learned how scientists tracked Ebola’s entry and spread in Liberia to one source. Liberia suffered the highest number of deaths in the West African outbreak.