Acknowledging that a flare up of Ebola sickness and transmission in Guinea is ongoing, and that more clusters of Ebola cases can be expected in West Africa, the World Health Organization committee on the outbreak today declared that the transmission of Ebola in the region that began in December 2013 is no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The committee recognized the outbreak of Ebola as an emergency in August 2014, only after it had infected more than 1779 people, killing 961 people, spreading to the capitals of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in the process, and traveling to nearby countries, including to Lagos, Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.
The declaration, Professor Robert Steffen, Vice Chair, of WHO’s Emergency Committee regarding Ebola, said, reflects that original chains of transmission have been terminated, and that the three most affected countries, have detected and responded to outbreaks swiftly.
Two days ago Guinea became the last of the three countries to see the end a 90-day period of enhanced surveillance to detect Ebola illness and transmission that followed a 42-day period after the last case linked to the original chain of transmission there. By that time the current chain of transmission had been ongoing for ten days, leading to five confirmed and three probable cases of Ebola (those three occurred in patients who died before testing confirmed the presence of the virus). Those cases, representatives of the WHO committee and Chan said today, represent a single chain of transmission, apparently started by persistent virus in a survivor.
Chan said today that Ebola can persist in the semen of a male survivor more than a year after his full recovery from the illness.
She added that committee members balanced this against the capacities of the countries, which she said now have “the world’s largest pool of experts” to respond to flare-ups. At the same time committee representatives said the declaration that Ebola in West Africa no long poses an international public health emergency will not diminish the ongoing presence of World Health Organization responders. The declaration, WHO representatives said, should mean the end of any travel and trade restrictions put in place in response to the outbreak.
The countries continue to require the “full support of the international community,” Chan said. That will include efforts to provide semen testing for male survivors, and to investigate expanded use of vaccine candidates.
At its end, the Ebola crisis made more than 28,500 people sick, including more than 800 health workers, and killed at least 11,300 people, more than 500 health workers among them. It has left more than 10,000 survivors facing ongoing health challenges and still unquantified risks of experiencing renewed disease or of transmitting disease.