World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show a significant drop in cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and even beleaguered Sierra Leone, indicating a potential–though not guaranteed–end of an outbreak that has taken thousands of lives and affected millions.
The Guardian reports that the number of cases in West Africa as a whole has dropped from more than 500 a week in December to fewer than 150 in the past week. Guinea has seen the most success in diminishing the rate of infections, though it was ground zero for the outbreak. Twenty cases were reported there in the past week. Forty-five were reported the week before that. The World Health Organization estimates that the number of new cases is halving every ten days in that country.
In Liberia, reports began to surface last week that American-built Ebola treatment centers, constructed months after the WHO and other international health organizations called for Western intervention to save lives, were nearly empty. The nation is doing so well that it is donating ambulances and medical supplies to neighboring Sierra Leone. Liberia is set to receive the first round of experimental Ebola vaccines from the United States this week. Doctors warn that, without a vaccine, the Ebola virus could cause another epidemic if spread via bush meat to another “patient zero” who was not exposed to the virus during this outbreak.
Liberia’s Ebola numbers have been dwindling for some time, while Guinea’s have been slowing in fits and starts. Throughout the latter course of the outbreak, Sierra Leone had been the lone holdout in experiencing an increasing number of cases, while the other nations began to slowly, but surely, manage their share. Even this, the WHO notes, appears to be changing. The Guardian notes that Dr. Christopher Dye, the director of strategy in the office of the WHO director general, includes Sierra Leone in the good news, as well: “The incidence is pretty clearly going down in all three countries now.”
While Sierra Leone recorded 117 of the 150 cases reported in the past week, local news outlets note that certain regions of the country are reporting a significant reduction in cases. Kailahun district, the first territory of Sierra Leone to record a case of Ebola and among the hardest hit by the outbreak, announced this week that it had gone 43 days without recording a single new case. The chiefdom to record the first case within Kailahun has gone three months without a new case. Doctors there mark this as a significant milestone because of the lack of resources in Kailahun, with one doctor noting that the international community responded to the call for help too late: “If there were available structures, facilities and resources, Kailahun would have contained the disease in three months [sic] time.”
Doctors warn that the good news may not last long if efforts to contain the disease, such as awareness campaigns on how to properly handle toxic materials, are not heeded. However, the World Health Organization’s optimism in its latest remarks is new to this particular outbreak and could signal a true end to west Africa’s nightmare, for now.