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Big Drop in New Ebola Cases in West Africa

FILE - Nine-year-old Nowa Paye is taken to an ambulance after showing signs of the Ebola infection in the village of Freeman Reserve, about 30 miles north of Monrovia, Liberia, Sept. 30, 2014.

The number of new Ebola cases in West Africa dropped sharply last week, raising hopes the regional epidemic is on the wane.

The World Health Organization says 145 new Ebola cases were reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the week ending January 18.

Only eight of those cases came from Liberia, a tiny fraction of the three- to four-hundred cases per week during August and September.

One hundred seventeen new cases were confirmed in Sierra Leone, but even there, the WHO says the number of new patients is "decreasing quickly." The latest number represents a drop of more than 50 percent in the past two weeks.

U.N. officials welcomed the reduction, but emphasized the need to stay vigilant and maintain the measures being used to control the Ebola virus.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said "complacency would be our worst enemy."

Amos spoke Wednesday at a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, at the 2015 World Economic Forum. There, she and U.N. Ebola response chief David Nabarro launched a $1 billion appeal to fund the international anti-Ebola effort.

Health experts and West African leaders have expressed hope the outbreak can be completely stopped by mid-year.

The WHO says all three countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak now have sufficient capacity to isolate and treat patients and safely bury those who died from the virus.

The U.N. says the new funding would be used to re-establish social services and improve people's food security in addition to fighting Ebola.

Total deaths from Ebola stand at 8,641, out of more than 21,700 cases.