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Ebola outlook improving in West Africa

Posted: January 25, 2015 12:48 p.m.
Updated: January 25, 2015 12:48 p.m.
Kelsey Dallas/

The countries at the epicenter of the current outbreak — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — are witnessing widespread decline in new Ebola cases.

January has been good to the global Ebola effort. Health officials report that the disease is slowing down in West Africa, as they offer an optimistic outlook for 2015.

In a situation report released Wednesday, the World Health Organization reported that case incidence continues to fall in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leona, the three countries considered the epicenter of the current outbreak. Additionally, nearby Mali has been declared Ebola-free.

In Liberia, U.S.-built Ebola centers sit empty, illustrating both the relief of lower infection rates and the frustration of resources wasted on an ill-timed response, The Washington Post reported.

"The U.S. military sent about 3,000 troops to West Africa to build (treatment) centers. … They were intended as a crucial safeguard against an epidemic that flared in unpredictable, deadly waves. But as the outbreak fades in Liberia, it has become clear that the disease had already drastically subsided before the first American centers were completed," The Post noted.

However, disease experts said it was impossible to predict the path of disease, and that wasted treatment centers are a blessing when they signal a stabilized outbreak.

In Guinea, children returned to school this week for the first time in five months. Students had their temperatures taken by teachers before entering their classrooms as part of the country's plan to be rid of the disease by mid-March, NPR reported.

The article noted that Guinea's prime minister, Mohamed Said Fofana, has been open about the potential for new cases to go unreported. He and other government officials have threatened to prosecute people who hide Ebola patients, whether out of fear or confusion.

The lingering concern in West Africa is that Ebola could continue to fester in communities out of reach of the treatment efforts offered by international health organizations, USA Today reported. Organizations focused on the Ebola effort won't relax until there are no new cases for many weeks in a row.

"As health officials at the U.N. have stressed, Ebola is a regional problem. That means Guinea and neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia must all hit zero before West Africa can say it has shaken off the Ebola epidemic," NPR reported.

According to WHO, the current epidemic has claimed 8,641 lives. Nearly 22,000 cases have been reported around the world, including 4 in the U.S.

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