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Ebola 'no longer' a global health scare

Nik Martin (Reuters, AFP, dpa)March 29, 2016

The WHO says it's confident the last few cases from the deadliest ever outbreak of Ebola in West Africa can be contained. More than 11,300 people have died from the virus since December 2013.

Ebola oubreak in Guinea
Image: K. Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

In a media briefing in Geneva, WHO chief Margaret Chan said the Ebola outbreak "no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern."

Chan stressed that the three worst affected countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - remain vulnerable to Ebola flare-ups, including an ongoing cluster of cases in Guinea, which has left five people dead.

But the UN's health agency said all original chains of virus transmission have now ended.

Chan said the "risk of international spread is now low, and ... countries currently have the capacity to respond rapidly to new virus emergences."

Her statement brings to an end a nearly 20-month emergency that started in Guinea in late 2013, saw 28,638 cases emerge and 11,300 deaths.

WHO chief Margaret Chan
Chan called for a high level of vigilance in West AfricaImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. di Nolfi

Highly contagious virus

At its peak in 2014, the Ebola outbreak sparked fears about a possible global pandemic and led to heavy criticism of the WHO, the UN health agency, as governments and aid agencies rushed to help contain the epidemic.

Some governments threatened or enforced travel bans to and from the worst-affected countries.

Chan reiterated on Tuesday that "there should be no restrictions on travel and trade with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and that any such measures should be lifted immediately."

She called for further work on a possible Ebola vaccine and better diagnostic tests, and pointed to the risk of sexual transmission.

"Semen can be positive for more than a year," she said, referring to the 1 to 2 percent of survivors whose semen contains Ebola virus or virus particles for that long.

The WHO said affected countries must make sure that male survivors can have their semen tested.