In December 2013, people started getting sick in Guéckédou, a town in Guinea near its border with Liberia and Sierra Leone. Two years later, more than 11,000 people have died from the deadly virus that started spreading from there.
Now, however, Guinea says it is Ebola-free. One survivor told the AFP, “It’s the best year-end present that God could give to Guinea, and the best news that Guineans could hope for.”
More than 2,500 people died from the virus in the country. Sierra Leone, another West African country hit hard by the outbreak, is also free of the disease. Liberia was as well, but another case means the state is again counting down the days, hoping it might be free from an assault of quick and painful deaths soon. The country will know if it is Ebola-free on January 14.
“This is the first time that all three countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – have stopped the original chains of transmission that were responsible for starting this devastating outbreak two years ago,” the regional director for the World Health Organization in Africa said in a statement. “As we work towards building resilient health care systems, we need to stay vigilant to ensure that we rapidly stop any new flares that may come up in 2016.”
Many health professionals and residents are still wary; just because the disease has been labeled gone doesn’t mean new cases couldn’t appear. Many will be watching in the upcoming weeks, carefully keeping track of the health of loved ones and notifying the authorities of anyone who looks suspiciously ill. Another WHO officials told Reuters, “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.” Another Ebola survivor and health worker told the BBC, “We have to be very careful, because even if open transmission has been stopped, the disease has not been totally defeated.”
The fear will probably be hard to dispel. A year ago, a mob in Guinea attacked a group of journalists and officials who were trying to notify residents about Ebola awareness. There were fears that the group was instead trying to spread the illness; eight were killed. The New York Times reported at the time that “workers and officials, blamed by panicked populations for spreading the virus, have been threatened with knives, stones and machetes.”
And even if the disease is actually gone, it has still left its mark on Guinea. About 6,200 children there have been left orphaned by the virus.