By Alphonso Toweh and James Harding Giahyue
MONROVIA – Liberia was declared free from Ebola by the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Saturday after 42 days without a new case of the virus, which killed more than 4,700 people there during a year-long epidemic.
However, celebrations were muted by thoughts for the dead and medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) urged vigilance until the worst outbreak of the disease ever recorded was also extinguished in neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone.
A total of 11,005 people have died from Ebola in the three West African neighbours since the outbreak began in December 2013, according to the WHO.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who toured Ebola treatment units in the capital Monrovia, said that, while Liberia could take pride in winning the battle against the disease, work was not finished.
“At times when you are at your worst, it is when you become your best. That was what happened to us,” she said during a speech at the country’s incident management centre. “The task is not yet over … The challenge is that we stay at zero.”
Monday has been decreed by the government as a day of thanksgiving. The country’s Christians have been asked to pray for the dead on Sunday, with Muslims to do the same on Friday.
Liberia was recording hundreds of new cases a week at the peak of the outbreak between August and October, causing international alarm.
The United States sent in hundreds of soldiers to help build treatment clinics in a country founded by freed U.S. slaves, a move seen as a game changer in the battle to stem the disease, contracted through physical contact with sick people.