After 42 days without new Ebola infections, Sierra Leone was declared free of the deadly Ebola infection on Saturday Nov. 7. The disease had raged in the country for well over a year, and claimed nearly 4,000 lives.
“Saturday should be a day of celebration for the people of Sierra Leone and everyone who has fought this epidemic,” explains Gaëlle Faure of Handicap International’s Ebola program. “When we reach the end of a crisis, we must celebrate—we should make the most of it!”
The number of confirmed cases had already dropped significantly by early 2015, but curbing an epidemic on this scale, spread over such a wide geographic area, was extremely complicated. Throughout the year, restrictions were put in place and a large-scale operation mounted to track and eradicate the virus. Until the last case had been reported, this demanded a considerable effort on the part of the population.
“The whole country was called upon to help, and it was important for Handicap International--working in Sierra Leone since 2000--to be involved in that effort,” Faure explains. “We organized the case-management and transport of people with Ebola or who were displaying symptoms of the virus in the Freetown region. The project transported 98% of cases reported to the authorities in the Western Area district. A total of 3,783 patients were transported without the risk of contaminating other people. More than 1,800 homes were also decontaminated by our teams during these operations. Now it’s time to show them what a great job they’ve done.”
Optimism needs to be tempered by caution and, although Handicap International’s teams are celebrating the event, they will remain mobilized to deal with any new cases and to participate in the efforts to put the country back on its feet after 18 months of such a crisis.
“In Liberia, there were new cases this summer, despite the fact that the country had been declared Ebola-free in May,” Faure cautions. “Despite all the efforts deployed, it is still possible that some cases have not been detected or that new infections happen through Guinea, where cases are still recorded. In addition, many survivors are still fighting with the long term effects of the virus, on a physical and psychological level.
“Today is a day of celebration, but we need to stay alert until the epidemic has been eradicated in the region as a whole. We’re also mindful of the victims of the virus, those who have lost loved ones, and those who have been hit by the crisis and who will need more time and support. For them, and for the population as a whole, today should bring relief and hope.”