After over 11,000 worldwide probable, confirmed and suspected deaths from the Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone, which lost nearly 4,000 to the disease, has been declared officially Ebola free by the World Health Organisation (WHO), just over a month after Liberia. The occasion was marked by marches through the streets of the capital, Freetown, a combination of celebration and mourning.
Those who succumbed to the virus were honoured, and names were projected onto a screen, many of whom (at least 200) were healthcare workers. The president Ernest Bai Koroma has suggested that the WHO response was lacking, and that the country was ill-prepared for such an outbreak.
A local representative of the WHO was able to make the official statement on Saturday the 7th, after a 42 day period free of new human to human transmission, measured from the last known case tested positive on its second test. This time period is equivalent to two incubation periods (the time between exposure and first symptoms – 21 days for the Ebola virus), determined by characteristics of the disease such as infection routes and doses, reproductive rate of the virus, as well as the host immune responses and susceptibility.
While this may have been a moment of celebration for many reasons, the lasting impact on Sierra Leone may be considerable. More than 12,000 children in the country lost at least one carer, and survivors can experience complications: joint pain, fatigue and visual losses, and viral presence in body fluids can last for months. In addition economic growth was hindered by lockdowns, quarantines and border closures – restrictive security and screening at the border with Guinea, which still has some cases, will continue.