Liberia's Ebola Outbreak Is Finally Over, But Other West African Nations Are Still Battling The Disease

More than a year after the staggering outbreak began, the World Health Organization announced on Saturday that Liberia is free of Ebola — the first of the three hardest-hit West African nations to be cleared of the deadly virus. While Sierra Leone and Guinea continue to confirm new cases of Ebola, health officials in Liberia say the country has successfully ended the outbreak, which claimed more than 4,700 deaths since early 2014. The last person in Liberia to contract the disease died on March 27, and no new cases have been reported since the patient's burial on March 28.

According to a statement released by the WHO, the 2014 outbreak was the "largest, longest, and most complex" Ebola outbreak since the disease was discovered in 1976. "At the peak of transmission, which occurred during August and September 2014, the country was reporting from 300 to 400 new cases every week," the WHO said in a statement.

Between March 30, 2014 — when the WHO confirmed the first Ebola case — and March 20, 2015, Liberia has seen more than 10,500 confirmed cases of Ebola. The nation's capital of Monrovia was particularly burdened by the outbreak, though the WHO stated that every one of Liberia's 15 counties had confirmed Ebola cases. The country also ran out of hospital beds when reported cases of the virus reached their peak, triggering fear among both residents and health workers. A high number of health workers contracted the virus during the outbreak; WHO confirms that of the 375 health workers infected, 189 died from the disease.

"It is a tribute to the government and people of Liberia that determination to defeat Ebola never wavered, courage never faltered," the WHO said on Saturday. "Doctors and nurses continued to treat patients, even when supplies of personal protective equipment and training in its safe use were inadequate."

John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Although Liberia may be completely free of Ebola, following a 42-day-long incubation period, two other West African nations continue to battle the deadly virus. According to WHO, Guinea and Sierra Leone still have reported cases of Ebola, though the number of cases is decreasing. As of May 3, Guinea and Sierra Leone each reported nine new Ebola cases in just one week, for an overall total of 18 new cases worldwide. It's the lowest weekly total of new Ebola cases in 2015.

"While WHO is confident that Liberia has interrupted transmission, outbreaks persist in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone, creating a high risk that infected people may cross into Liberia over the region’s exceptionally porous borders," the health agency said in its statement.

WHO plans to identify all remaining cases of Ebola in West Africa by June 2015. Since the outbreak began in early 2014, there have been nearly 26,600 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of the disease across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, resulting in more than 11,000 reported deaths.

Images: Getty Images (1)