Liberia was on a countdown to be declared Ebola-free. On the eve of marking a year since its first case, the country suffered a setback when a woman tested positive. Despite the new case, many people remain hopeful.
Life in Monrovia seems to be returning to normal as a group of children play football on a street in the suburban neighborhood of Congo Town. They look happy to be back on the "pitch" again.
Robinho Dwen, 10, said he is back with his friends because the number of infections has scaled down considerably. "I am happy because Ebola is going away," said Romeo Holmes, 8. "When Ebola was in town everybody was lying down in hospital."
This happiness turned bitter on Friday (20.03.2015) when a woman living in the capital Monrovia tested positive with Ebola.
Liberia had gone for over two weeks without recording any new infections. The last known patient was sent home on March 5th with a clean bill of health. The country was on a countdown to meet the World Health Organization's requirement of 42 days. After this incubation period, Liberia would have been declared Ebola-free.
Dr Francis Kateh, acting head of Liberia's Ebola Case Management Team, warned that Liberians will have to remain especially vigilant as the country suffers another setback in its fight against the disease.
"My caution and this has been something we have talked about over and over is that this [Ebola] is not over until it is over," he stressed.
Liberia diagnosed its first case of Ebola a year ago and more than 4,000 people have since died from the disease in the country. This cast a cloud of death and fear over Liberians. “This is a period that will never be forgotten in the history of our country,” said Liberian resident Moses Carter.
Although the country has made significant progress in fighting the virus over the past year, the authorities must lose no time in tracing the source of the new infection.
What's worrying, according to Dr Kateh, is that the new infection does not seem to show any link to the current list of people who have had contact with Ebola. The woman also hadn't been to Guinea and Sierra Leone, the two countries affected by the outbreak, either.
Dr. Kateh said Liberians “need to continue to put into practice those preventive mechanisms that have taken us from where we were to where we are now.”
This caution resonated among many residents of the capital Monrovia. "The fight is not over and as such we should heed the advice from the World Health Organization and our own ministry of health,” said Monrovian resident Vivian Samuels.
“There is the need to continuously practice safety measures,” she added.
Another Monrovian resident, Sarah Saydee, said Liberians “should continue to take precautions [by] washing our hands and stop shaking hands” in order to bid farewell to the outbreak.
Liberian authorities hope that with hygienic precautions and vigilance, Ebola will soon be eradicated. But they fear Liberia will remain at risk until the number of infections has dropped to zero not only at home, but in Guinea and Sierra Leone as well.