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Sierra Leone Declared Ebola-Free

FILE - People walk past a billboard warning residents to stop the stigmatization of Ebola survivors, in Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone, Aug. 12, 2015.

The World Health Organization has announced that Sierra Leone is officially free of the Ebola virus, now that 42 days have passed without any new infections.

Saturday's announcement was eagerly anticipated in the west African nation that has lost nearly 4,000 people to the virus over the past several years.

Abdulla Bayraytay, national publicity and outreach coordinator in the Sierra Leone’s government, said carnivals are being planned throughout the country to celebrate the day, but also to remember the victims of the virus, among them some of the nation's best doctors.

Vigil among celebration

Bayraytay said some of the activities planned for Saturday include a vigil by the civil society female organization to honor health workers, including those who lost their lives to the virus.

“And on Saturday, his excellency, President Ernest Bai Koroma, will also address the nation. Without preempting that, part of the address will be to salute all the people who contributed in the fight and also to congratulate the resilience exhibited by Sierra Leoneans,” Bayraytay said.

He also said the government will tell Sierra Leoneans to remain vigilant and continue to respect all the Ebola prevention protocols to avoid the example of neighboring Liberia, where the country suffered a relapse after declared Ebola-free.

Remaining vigilant

Before Saturday's announcement, Bayraytay said the country's National Ebola Response Center had determined Sierra Leone would continue with "standard operating procedures in terms of dignified medical burial for any suspected case of Ebola. ... These are still important because we don’t want a relapse as it happened unfortunately in neighboring Liberia.”

The burial practices include avoiding body contact and not taking sick people to herbalists or traditional healers, he said.

Bayraytay also said Sierra Leone has intensified its surveillance at the border with Guinea, which just last week recorded three new cases.