Sierra Leone leadership aims for a future free of Ebola for all

After 17 months of widespread Ebola infection, the African country of Sierra Leone has been deemed Ebola-free by the World Health Organization. WHO Director Anders Nordström stated in a recent release that the country had gone 42 days without any new cases of the infectious blood disease, which goes to satisfy the criteria that the WHO uses to declare an area free of an outbreak. The community of Freetown, the nation’s capital, responded to the news by holding a large demonstration both in memory of those lost to the disease, and as a reminder to survivors of the disease to stay vigilant.

The ceremony began with a speech given by citizen Yusuf Kamara, a healthcare worker who lost 16 members of his family to the disease and survived it himself. Kamara took his opportunity on stage to remind Sierra Leoneans that although they may have conquered the battle with Ebola, it is important for the state to remain adamant about preserving the health of its people. “For us, Ebola is not over. We need your help to treat the many, many health problems we still suffer from. And remember those who died at the hands of Ebola, and especially the children who have been affected by this outbreak,” said Kamara.

During the outbreak, Ebola is believed to have created as many as 12,000 orphans throughout continental Africa. In Sierra Leone alone, 8,704 cases of Ebola were reported, with 3,589 ultimately being fatal; at the peak of the disease’s outbreak, several hundred new cases of Ebola were being reported weekly. The disease continues to be a problem in the neighboring country of Guinea, where just last week, three cases of Ebola were reported between siblings. The WHO has urged the area to remain cautious until the situation in Guinea has been resolved, at which point the entire region will be declared Ebola-free.

During the demonstration at Freetown, Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma made statements about the dedication of the 35,000 relief workers who allowed the country to defeat the outbreak, and urged the populous to focus on improving the hygiene, healthcare, and economy within the country. Koroma continued by saying that the National Ebola Response Center would remain active until 2016, and that all dead bodies would still be tested for the virus until further notice. Furthermore, the president urged Sierra Leone to stop the stigmatization of survivors, in an effort to advance the country’s recovery.

The ceremony was, by and large, a positive celebration of the end of a dangerous outbreak. Dr. Marto Lado, an infectious diseases consultant at the largest hospital in Freetown said, “Everyone is celebrating, but the truth is I’m surprised at the normality of everything. On Friday people came to work and were talking about it, but not in an excited way. It’s more of a relief.” Lado continued, “It has taken so long for this weekend to arrive. There is still a lot of anxiety about what might happen. There is still Ebola in Guinea and we know it is not over yet.”

The end of the outbreak has allowed the country of Sierra Leone to release a communal sigh of relief. However, the recovery of the developing nation has just begun, and the disease still poses a very real threat to the nation.