The World Health Organization (WHO) called Nigeria a “spectacular success story” Monday after it declared the country free of Ebola. It has been 42 days — twice the disease's maximum incubation period — since the last person suspected of contracting the disease tested negative.
The good news, however, was dampened by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s comments that a “generation of young people risk being lost” in West Africa to the “economic catastrophe” caused by the outbreak.
WHO commended Nigeria for tracing nearly everyone that could have contacted an Ebola victim in the country. In one month, Nigerian epidemiologists and other health care workers made some 26,000 household visits, investigating possible contacts.
Nigeria reported 20 cases of Ebola, including eight deaths.
“It shows that Ebola can be contained, but we must be clear that we have only won a battle, the war will only end when West Africa is also declared free of Ebola,” WHO representative Rui Gama Vaz told a news conference in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
Meanwhile, Sirleaf described the devastating effects of Ebola in her country and appealed for more international assistance in a "Letter to the World" broadcast Sunday by the BBC.
"Across West Africa, a generation of young people risk being lost to an economic catastrophe as harvests are missed, markets are shut and borders are closed," the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said. "The virus has been able to spread so rapidly because of the insufficient strength of the emergency, medical and military services that remain under-resourced."
Sirleaf noted that the three hardest-hit countries — Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — were already in bad shape when the first-ever outbreak of Ebola in West Africa began.
"There is no coincidence Ebola has taken hold in three fragile states,” she said, adding that all three are “battling to overcome the effects of interconnected wars.” Sirleaf said that Liberia once had 3,000 medical doctors, but by the end of its civil war, which ended 11 years ago, the country had just 36.
Sirleaf also said that the fight required commitments from all countries with the ability to help with financial assistance, medical supplies and medical experts.
“It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves against an enemy that they do not know, and against whom they have little defense,” Sirleaf said.
The total death toll has risen to more than 4,500 people from the 9,000 infected, according to WHO. Although Senegal and Nigeria have been declared free of Ebola, the epidemic remains out of control in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
WHO has warned that by December there could be as many as 10,000 new infections per week. Fourteen other West African countries have also been identified as being at risk, and preparations are being made to combat the epidemic there, said Isabelle Nuttall, director of WHO's global capacities.
Al Jazeera and wire services