CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea was declared free of Ebola transmission on Tuesday after more than 2,500 people died from the virus in the West African nation, leaving Liberia as the only country still counting down the days until the end of the epidemic.
The announcement made at a ceremony in the capital comes 42 days after the last Ebola patient tested negative for a second time. The country now enters a 90-day period of heightened surveillance, the U.N. World Health Organization said.
The world’s worst Ebola outbreak began in Gueckedou, eastern Guinea, in December 2013 before spreading to Liberia, Sierra Leone and seven other countries. In all, more than 11,300 people died, almost all in the three worst-affected nations.
Despite Tuesday’s milestone, people in the capital, Conakry, greeted the declaration with mixed emotions, given the deaths and the damage the virus did to the economy and the country’s health and education sectors.
About 6,200 children have been left orphaned, said Rene Migliani, from Guinea’s Ebola coordination centre.
“Never has an epidemic caused so much harm to Guinea as Ebola. If the government and its foreign partners have succeeded in vanquishing the disease we can only thank God,” said local resident Mamady Traore.
Nevertheless, concern remains that new cases could re-emerge even though all the original chains of person-to-person transmission have been broken and there are currently no cases.
“The time-limited persistence of virus in survivors which may give rise to new Ebola flares in 2016 makes it imperative that partners continue to support these countries,” said Bruce Aylward, WHO special representative for Ebola response.
At its height, Ebola sparked fear around the world and governments and businesses took precautions. New cases have dwindled due to successful public health campaigns and the intervention of national and international health workers.
Governments from as far afield as Cuba, France and the United States sent health workers and equipment to the three countries in an attempt to get a grip on the disease.
Hundreds of health workers who treated Ebola sufferers were themselves infected and died due to a lack of training and equipment to deal with a disease not previously seen in that part of West Africa.
“Several of my family are dead. This situation has shown us how much we must fight for those who are survivors,” Fanta Oulen Camara, who works for Medecins Sans Frontieres Belgium (Doctors Without Borders), told Reuters.
“After I got better, the hardest thing was to make people welcome me. Most people that normally supported me abandoned me. Even the school where I was an instructor dropped me. It was very hard,” said Camara, 26, who works as part of the MSF Belgium psycho-social support team and fell ill in March 2014.
Ebola has orphaned about 6,200 children in Guinea, said Rene Migliani, an official at the national coordination centre for the fight against Ebola.
There were more than 3,800 cases in Guinea out of more than 28,600 cases globally, according to WHO. Almost all the cases and deaths were in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which officially ended its epidemic in November.
Liberia has lost more than 4,800 people but could be declared virus-free on Jan. 14. The country was declared Ebola free in May and September, but each time new cases emerged.
Additional reporting by Tom Miles; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Alison Williams