- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Ebola epidemic that ravaged West Africa for more than a year could be declared over in Liberia on Saturday, marking a major milestone for the hard-hit nation after a nightmarish period of death and fear that awakened the globe to a long-ignored virus.

Barring the unexpected, Liberia will mark 42 days since the last confirmed patient died. That is twice Ebola’s incubation period, so it’s unlikely that anyone else could have been infected with the virus.

The milestone will allow Liberia to celebrate how far it has come, as responders “really wrote a new book on how to deal with Ebola,” said D.C. resident Brett Sedgewick, who traveled to the country last fall as a technical adviser for Global Communities, an aid group aligned with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“At the same time, the virus has every ability to come back,” he said.

Ebola claimed roughly 4,700 lives in Liberia — the most of any country — and continues to spread in neighbors Sierra Leone and Guinea, although transmission has dropped sharply in both countries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week said it is no longer warning people to avoid nonessential travel to Liberia, but it is still urging them to take extra precautions. The CDC has not lifted its warnings about Guinea and Sierra Leone.

At its worst, 1,000 people were being infected per week, African countries were canceling flights to infected countries and U.S. officials were siphoning visitors into designated airports where they could be screened.

President Obama cast the fight as a chance for the U.S. to demonstrate its leadership on the world stage and resisted efforts to stop flights from affected areas. Several cases were diagnosed in the U.S., and two men, who were infected with the virus in Africa and carried it to the U.S., died.

Medical officials tightened protocols in the U.S., and Mr. Obama committed nearly 3,000 troops to the fight in Africa with a focus on Liberia. Britain and France focused on Sierra Leone and Guinea, their former colonies.

Scientists fast-tracked vaccine trials for Ebola, and global response teams persuaded West Africans to cease hands-on burial traditions that sped transmission.

Cases in Liberia dropped precipitously late last year, and Mr. Obama lauded Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during her February visit to the White House.

“Because of the heroism of so many people in Liberia, and because of the actions of the United States and ultimately the international community, we have made extraordinary strides in driving back Ebola,” he said.

Although the worst appears to be over, the U.S. is maintaining contact with the region.

Former President Bill Clinton, in a visit this week, told Liberians not to stigmatize survivors.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate passed a bipartisan measure that would encourage Americans to lend a helping hand to the thousands of children orphaned by the West African outbreak.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who sponsored the measure, is a strong advocate for adoption, although his office said Americans should consider giving clothes, time or other assistance.

Wary of the next outbreak, the CDC plans to study the ability of the virus to spread through survivors’ bodily fluids in Sierra Leone. It also will explore attitudes about the disease in Guinea.

The first project will study various fluids — semen, vaginal fluids, sweat, saliva, rectal fluids, tears, urine and breast milk — to learn “if and how Ebola can be spread by survivors,” according to the agency.

The study will test participants’ fluids for the presence of the virus every two weeks — until their samples are negative — in exchange for $28 per visit, according to federal guidance published Wednesday.

The second study will assess whether Guinea’s population understands Ebola, how it is transmitted and how they can help snuff out the disease, after reports of residents hiding ill people or attacking aid workers.

“Some believe that [Ebola] is transmitted by witchcraft, ‘outsiders,’ or health workers,” the CDC notice said. “Some lack understanding or confidence in control measures.”

Guinea is where the epidemic began in December 2013, although it has reported roughly 3,500 cases compared with Sierra Leone’s 12,470 and about 2,300 fewer deaths than Liberia.

Resentment of foreign aid teams has impeded efforts at times. This week, the United Nations reported that violent demonstrations in the Guinean capital of Conakry “again impeded operations of Ebola response partners.”


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