The World Health Organization declared on November 7 that Sierra Leone is Ebola-free. 42 days is the length of two incubation cycles of the virus, and the 42-day countdown begins after the last patient tests negative for a second time.
Thousands of people gathered around the Cotton Tree in the capital, Freetown, to celebrate and remember those who died fighting the disease.
Although Sierra Leone is said to be Ebola-free, the country is still at risk of new cases. Neighbouring Liberia was declared Ebola-free in May before new cases emerged, and Guinea is still facing the epidemic with seven news cases reported in the last few weeks. Liberia was declared Ebola-free again in early September.
Despite the celebrations, the country is still recovering after 17 months of disease and nearly 4,000 dead. In Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, roughly 11,300 people have died since March 2014, including over 220 health workers.
The country will be under enhanced surveillance for 90 days to be sure the virus does not return, as it can remain in bodily fluids for months after the initial infection. One survivor, Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey, was infected with Ebola and treated in January, but the virus lingered in her body until October where it resurfaced as meningitis.
“For us, Ebola is not over,” said Yusuf Kamara, an Ebola survivor who lost 16 members of his family, “We need your help to treat the many, many health problems we still suffer from.”
Yusuf is right. Since 2013, over 4,500 children under five have died of preventable diarrhoeal diseases due to a high majority of the population living in unsanitary conditions. Ebola is only one epidemic afflicting the country.
Many survivors face post-Ebola complications including vision problems, joint pain, and fatigue.