Health ministers and officials at the World Health Organization’s decision-making body are urging continued vigilance until the Ebola epidemic is completely stopped in West Africa. The World Health Assembly has called on the international community to maintain its commitment to defeating the deadly virus, which has killed more than 11,000 people in the region.
At a WHA conference here, Magaret Chan, WHO’s director-general, kicked off a panel discussion on Ebola with a cheery note – a reminder that Liberia had been declared Ebola-free May 9.
“Keep up with the good work, Liberia,” she said.
But, Chan added, “this is a qualified victory … because the country remains at risk of reinfection from its neighbors.”
The WHO’s latest report shows Sierra Leone and Guinea had 35 new cases of Ebola last week – four times higher than the week before.
The implied threat in this message was not lost on Miatta Gbanya, a senior official in Liberia’s Ministry of Health.
“When a disease hits your neighbor’s front door, beware that it could come to your back door,” Gbanya said. “So, we have embarked on cross-border collaboration with Guinea and Sierra Leone … because countries need to start to talk to each other. We need to start to share information. We need to share knowledge and skills.”
Health ministers from all three West African countries agreed they need continued vigilance, increased surveillance and strong political will to bring Ebola cases down to zero.
They also spoke about the need to intimately involve communities in every aspect of an ongoing emergency or potential health emergency.
The ministers said they learned how important it is to win public acceptance of measures to control the Ebola virus or any public health threat. They noted that resistance to altering burial practices to prevent transmission of the virus prolonged the outbreak by many months