In Liberia, there have been no new Ebola cases since March 20; if that number remains at zero, the country will be declared Ebola-free at the beginning of next month.
WASHINGTON — Now that the Ebola crisis in West Africa appears to be easing, President Obama called Wednesday for renewed international efforts to rebuild the shattered health systems in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, to shore up the response to future pandemics in the region.
Appearing at the White House alongside the presidents of the three countries, the hardest hit by the latest Ebola outbreak, Obama said the global response must continue, even as the number of new Ebola cases has dropped to zero in Liberia and about 30 in Guinea and Sierra Leone.
“We have to be vigilant, and the international community has to remain fully engaged in a partnership with these three countries until there are no cases of Ebola,” Obama said. “Health systems also have to be rebuilt to meet daily needs: vaccines for measles, delivering babies safely, treating HIV/AIDS and malaria.”
Obama made his remarks while flanked by Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone and Alpha Condé of Guinea, in a scene that was different from the widespread panic seven months ago amid calls for the United States to close its borders to travelers from the affected countries.
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Anxieties have waned since then. In Liberia, there have been no new Ebola cases since March 20; if that number remains at zero, the country will be declared Ebola-free at the beginning of next month. The U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response reported that as of April 10, there were 21 confirmed new cases in Guinea and nine new cases in Sierra Leone, compared with 52 and 25 the previous week.
Since the outbreak began more than a year ago, there have been 26,611 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola, with 10,611 reported deaths, the agency said.
Even though the threat of further infection has declined significantly, all three presidents and their entourages were issued temporary cellphones and thermometers upon arrival in the United States and, like all visitors from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, must take their temperatures daily while in the United States and report it to the U.S. health authorities. Obama shook hands with all three presidents, aides said.
About 3,000 U.S. troops went to Liberia as part of the American effort to combat the disease, and about 100 remain.
The race to get to zero cases is crucial, Obama administration officials said Wednesday, because the porous borders between the three worst affected countries means all three will remain at risk until the virus is gone from neighboring countries.
The World Health Organization has been urging Ebola survivors to have protected sex, with condoms, until global health officials can figure out how long the virus remains in semen, after a case in Liberia in which a man’s semen tested positive for the virus six months after he was considered free of Ebola.