President Sirleaf of Liberia
President Sirleaf of Liberia

Officials in Mali are trying to trace at least 200 contacts of people linked to Ebola patients in that country, as it struggles to contain an outbreak of the virus.

Health officials say they have identified at least that many people who had contact with one of at least four confirmed cases of Ebola virus since last month.  

Mali shares a border with Guinea, one of three countries at the center of the epidemic, along with Liberia and Sierra Leone. The first victim of Mali's recent outbreak was a two-year-old girl from Guinea.

People quarantined for 21 days following her death were just reaching the end of their confinement when another case of Ebola was reported in the country, indicating another wave of infections could be starting.

The World Health Organization reported Friday a slight rise in the Ebola death toll, saying there have been 5,177 deaths among 14,413 confirmed cases worldwide, since the start of the current outbreak.

The World Health Organization said this week there has been a "steep increase" in the number of Ebola cases in Sierra Leon, with 421 new infections being reported this week.

The international health group Doctors Without Borders is launching clinical trials in West Africa to test the effectiveness of three potential Ebola treatments. The group announced Thursday it hopes to begin the trials next month, with the first results available as early as February.

Liberia ends state of emergency

On Thursday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ended the state of emergency she instituted in her country because of the Ebola crisis. But she said the fight against Ebola is not over, and that some restrictions will remain in place.

With most of them marketers and peddlers, the state of emergency and its related restrictions deprived local residents of their daily way of life. 

The densely populated borough was quarantined for 10 days as part of government’s efforts to control the spread of the Ebola virus. 

In August, soldiers opened fire on the residents during a protest, killing a 16-year old boy.

Archie Ponpon, a member of Respect Incorporated, a local human rights NGO headquartered in West Point, said the residents feel as if they have just been released from jail for a crime they did not commit.

“Many people are very much convinced and happy that they have fought a good fight for which the state of emergency has been lifted. It brought about a kind of walking out of jail after you have not committed a crime,” he said.

In announcing the lifting of the state of emergency, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the fight against Ebola was not over, and that some restrictions would remain in place.

"Until the national goal of zero new cases by Christmas is achieved all across the country, we will keep many of the previous measures in place, with appropriate adjustments consistent with the progress in our fight," the president said.

She said markets can reopen, and a curfew will be pushed back to midnight in non-affected areas.

Sirleaf said 10 of Liberia's 15 counties have reported no new cases of Ebola for nearly a week.

Ponpon said there is no direct correlation between the state of emergency and reduction in the number of Ebola cases.

“Technically the state of emergency did not play a role in terms of reducing the number of Ebola cases. What it did is that it just created a situation where people were forced to interact with each other on a closed basis. Many people in West Point saw it from the militant standpoint where somebody had to die,” Ponpon said.

This week, a military disciplinary board found a platoon commander, Lt Aloysius Quaye and four other soldiers guilty for their role in the August shooting in which the 16-year old boy was killed and three others wounded.

Ponpon said West Point citizens held two days of protest against the report because it did not call for the removal of the commissioner of West Point who the residents blame for the violence.

He also said the residents remain perplexed about the report’s finding because it did not establish which soldier or soldiers fired the fatal shots.


VOA's James Butty contributed to this report.