Months after several cases of Ebola were diagnosed on U.S. soil last fall, sending much of the country into a panic over the potential spread of the deadly disease, the national media has moved on to other concerns. Ebola never posed a very big threat to Americans, and after there were no longer any infections here, people largely stopped paying attention.
But even though it’s lost the interest of many Americans here at home, the story has continued to unfold in West Africa, where one of the hardest-hit countries just marked an important milestone in its ongoing fight against the disease.
Liberia released its last Ebola patient from a treatment center on Thursday — which means the embattled country, which has lost more than 4,100 people to Ebola since the beginning of the outbreak, now has zero cases of the disease within its borders.
Beatrice Yardolo, a 58-year-old teacher, said she was “very grateful” for the intensive care she received that allowed her to be discharged this week. In a reminder of the widespread impact of the deadly virus, which has killed more people in Liberia than in any other country, she also said that she lost three of her five children to Ebola before she sought treatment.
Yardolo’s release is the beginning of the countdown to Liberia being officially declared “Ebola-free” by the World Health Organization, which requires countries to go 42 days without seeing any new Ebola infections in order to gain that status. And it’s a landmark that may have seemed impossibly out of reach just a few months ago, as international aid was slow to come while the virus collapsed the country’s health care system and left a hunger crisis in its wake.
In an interview with the New York Times, the deputy health minister who’s in charge of Liberia’s fight against Ebola, named Tolbert Nyenswah, said it was “exciting” to discharge the last patient in the country.
Although he cautioned that the epidemic wasn’t over yet and urged Liberians to continue taking cautionary measures in their communities, Nyenswah said that “it was touching, it was pleasing” to see Yardolo go home because “we feel that this is a victory.” He also confirmed that Liberia has gone nearly two weeks without recording any new Ebola infections.
The steady progress is containing the deadly disease doesn’t mean that there’s nothing left to worry about. The number of Ebola cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone continue to rise, as some communities there are still resisting bringing their infected family members to treatment centers. And according to a recent report from charity group Save the Children, there are at least 28 “high risk” countries with weakened health care infrastructures that could be poised for the next big Ebola epidemic.
Last month, the president of Liberia implored the international community to keep supporting her country as it rebuilds from the damage wrought by the virus. Despite a widespread aid effort, the UN is still facing a $900 million shortfall in its fund designated to fight the disease. Oxfam, a global organization that aims to find long-term solutions to poverty, has called for a multi-million dollar post-Ebola “Marshall Plan” to help strengthen the economies of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.