A young Liberian man has died from Ebola, several weeks after the country had been declared Ebola-free. The process of finding and isolating contacts has begun and the government says there is no need to panic.
Liberians had thought the nightmare was over. The country was officially declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 9, 42 days after the last confirmed case was buried. But on Tuesday, June 30, the government announced the return of the deadly disease.
"A new case of Ebola has been reported in Margibi county.The person has died and was confirmed positive before death. He has been buried," said deputy health minister Tolbert Nyensuah. The victim was a 17-year-old male who died a week ago. He was buried in a way that prevents further infections, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. The case showed that Liberia's surveillance system is working, Jasarevic added.
DW's Liberia correspondent Daniel Nyakonah said the dead man had fallen ill in his home village which is about an hour's drive from the capital Monrovia. He was taken to hospital where he was found to be showing symptoms of Ebola. Blood samples taken from the dead man before burial tested positive. Nyensuah called on the population to remain calm and said the necessary steps were being taken to find and identify contacts of the dead man and isolate them. The main question was to establish how the youngster became infected, the deputy minister said.
The reopening of schools in Liberia in February was seen as a major step towards returning to normality.
Liberia better prepared this time
Together with Sierra Leone and Guinea, Liberia was one of the West African countries hardest hit by the worst Ebola outbreak to date. Since it began eighteen months ago, the disease has killed more than 11,000 people in the three countries, at least 27,00 were infected. The death toll for Liberia was put at 4,800.
As a result of the new fatality, Liberia's Ebola-free status will have to be reviewed. Guinea and Sierra Leone are also still battling the disease. The area where the boy died is not near Liberia's borders with the other two Ebola-hit countries.
The Liberian authorities say they are now better prepared, and have more trained personnel, than when the outbreak began in 2014. The area where the boy died has been put under quarantine.
Contact tracing is essential
In an interview with DW, David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the case shows that "Liberia is still on the alert and able to pick up cases of Ebola and that is a very good sign."
The most important thing, Heymann said, was to discover how the dead man had become infected. "Was this someone who travelled to a neighboring country where there is still Ebola? Or was this person in contact with someone who had Ebola and was never detected?" To answer these questions, the dead man’s contacts from the last 21 days needed to be traced, a process the government says is underway.
Heymann pointed out that this new case did not necessarily mean others would follow, "but it’s a very important issue to make sure all contacts of this person are found and put under surveillance."