Sierra Leone health officials expressed optimism that the country’s devastating Ebola crisis is nearing its end after just 10 new cases of the viral disease were found during a three-day nationwide shutdown over the weekend, down from 260 new cases found during a similar shutdown in September. Many worried that the shutdown -- having all residents stay inside their homes -- would reveal dozens of cases, but the majority of the sick Sierra Leoneans found during the shutdown did not test positive for the disease.
The country’s 6 million inhabitants were asked to stay at home over the weekend as health workers went door to door across the country in hopes of finding and isolating the last cases of Ebola. Efforts were intensified in Sierra Leone’s rural north, where cases often go unidentified and isolated flare-ups are common. Health workers encountered little resistance during the search, although there were some people unhappy about the shutdown.
The success of the shutdown prompted Sierra Leone’s Ebola response head, Alfred Palo Conteh, to declare that his country “conquered the Ebola disease and we are now at the tail end,” according to the Associated Press.
The yearlong outbreak devastated Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing an estimated 10,000 people across the three West African countries. Their weak health care systems and the public’s lack of knowledge about the disease, which had never threatened the region before last year, exacerbated the crisis. The outbreak reached its height late last summer, when hundreds of new cases were reported every day. A massive effort by nongovernmental organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the international community helped bring the outbreak under relative control. Critics said groups like the World Health Organization and countries outside of Africa should have responded sooner.
Liberia largely has eradicated the disease, reporting no cases over the last week of March, but there are still at least 57 active cases in Guinea, which has struggled to bring an end to outbreaks.