GENEVA - The World Health Organization has declared the West African country of Guinea free of Ebola transmission. WHO says this marks an important milestone in the two-year struggle to stop the spread of this deadly disease, which has claimed the lives of thousands of people.
Guinea has passed 42 days without a confirmed case of Ebola, making it the third of three severely affected countries after Liberia and Sierra Leone to have stopped the spread of this deadly disease.
This is also the first time all three countries have halted the original chains of transmission of Ebola, since the virus was first detected in Gueckedou, Guinea in December 2013.
Director of Ebola Response and Coordination at the World Health Organization, Richard Brennan calls this a significant achievement. But, he warns the disease could re-emerge. He tells VOA Guinea and other countries in West Africa must not become complacent. They must remain vigilant.
“Between March and November of this year, we have had 10 mini-outbreaks of Ebola — what we are calling flares of Ebola," he said. "And, they have occurred due to re-emergence of the virus in individuals because of persistence of the virus in survivors.”
Dr. Brennan explains the virus may remain in the semen of some survivors for as long as nine to 12 months, during which time Ebola could be sexually transmitted. Therefore, he says Guinea now enters a 90-day period of heightened surveillance to make sure new cases are quickly identified before they can spread to other people.
Dr. Brennan says WHO will actively monitor the situation in Guinea, as well as in the other West African countries.
“We will maintain a presence in every prefecture of Guinea, in every district of Sierra Leone, and every county of Liberia for the next 12 months. We will have to support local health care workers in the prevention, detection and response to potential outbreaks,” he said.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was the worst in history. It was unprecedented in scale and complexity. Since the onset of the disease in March 2014, 11,300 people have died in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and more than 28,600 have been infected with the virus.
The World Health Organization does not rule out future outbreaks of Ebola in the West African region. It acknowledges many mistakes have been made, but many lessons have been learned in the course of dealing with this epidemic. Consequently, it says Ebola medical response teams now are better placed to detect and respond quickly to future outbreaks.