UNICEF hails Liberia's victory over Ebola, but warns against complacency as cases remain in neighbouring countries
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MONROVIA, May 9, 2015 - Welcoming Liberia's announcement today that it has reached zero Ebola cases, UNICEF commended the critical role communities have played in beating back the epidemic in that country. The children's agency went on to warn, however, that the threat posed to the region by the deadly virus will not disappear until there is no longer active transmission in affected neighbouring countries.
"Today we join Liberia in celebrating this victory against a scourge that has caused so much death and suffering," said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF's Representative in Liberia. "It is a tremendous tribute to the engagement of communities which have played a central role in the battle against Ebola."
Yett cautioned, however, that Liberia could not afford to let its guard down. "Having achieved zero cases is the first step, now the challenge is to remain at zero. The threat won't be over until there are no more cases in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea."
A previously affected country is considered free of Ebola transmission if it records no further cases over a 42-day period, twice the maximum incubation period of the virus. The last person known to have been infected in Liberia was safely buried on March 28. But surveillance continues, particularly along border areas, and the partners in the response stand ready to act rapidly should there be a new outbreak.
As part of the preparedness, UNICEF has helped set up Rapid Isolation and Treatment of Ebola (RITE) kits that can deployed to any new Ebola hotspot, and has trained community leaders on communicating and facilitating the changes in behaviour needed to keep people safe.
At the height of the crisis in late August and early September, Liberia recorded more than 400 cases a week. Towards the end of the year, the country had clearly turned a corner, as communities increasingly took it upon themselves to battle the crisis, adopting safe behaviours – such as not touching bodies during funeral ceremonies and assuming responsibility for tracking down and reporting suspected cases.
One of the main partners in the response to the Ebola crisis, UNICEF supports efforts to strengthen basic services, including health and education, which suffered serious setbacks as a result of the Ebola outbreak.
"In the longer-run there is a need to rebuild a better health system, with the capacity to identify and respond to any future outbreaks, be it Ebola, measles or pertussis," said Yett. "We need to continue to build on the decentralized and community-based surveillance, social mobilization and response systems that have been put in place, and for that, continued funding will be needed."
UNICEF is committed to helping Liberia capitalize on the gains made in terms of positive social behaviour, and to help apply social mobilization and community engagement to recovery efforts. This is already taking place, with thousands of UNICEF-supported community mobilizers deployed in support of a measles and polio immunization campaign from May 8-14.
Together with its partners, UNICEF has helped reach more than 400,000 households through door-to-door visits, and more than one million people through community discussions and meetings. UNICEF has also trained nearly 19,000 traditional and religious leaders and over 7,000 frontline mobilizers to support community engagement in Liberia.
UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.
UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.