Sierra Leone celebrates end of Ebola epidemic
Candlelit vigil has been held in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown to mark the end of an Ebola epidemic that has killed almost 4,000 people including more than 220 health workers since it began in 2014.
Following 42 days with no new cases, the West African nation’s epidemic was declared Ebola free on Saturday by the World Health Organization, a ceremony attended by President Ernest Bai Koroma and U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) representative Anders Nordstrom.
It was gathered that thousands of people gathered overnight around the Cotton Tree, a massive tree in the centre of Freetown, for a candlelit vigil organised by women’s groups to pay tribute to health workers who lost their lives.
“They died so we could live,” university student Fatmata said with tears in her eyes. Many of the health workers who died were infected due to inadequate protective equipment and training.
The country’s first confirmed Ebola survivor, Victoria Yillia, told the crowd she was “happy that this disease which almost killed me has finally ended”. She appealed to authorities not to forget survivors, many of whom have faced social stigma and persistent health problems.
Elsewhere in the city, residents celebrated the end of the epidemic, which forced schools to close, overwhelmed healthcare systems and hurt the local economy.
“We’re happy. I feel free again after a period of bondage in the hands of Ebola,” said trader Joseph Katta as he clutched a pint of beer at a pub in the suburb of Lumley.
Ebola has killed more than 11,300 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea since the epidemic was announced in March 2014 and about 28,500 were infected, according to WHO data. Sierra Leone’s death toll was 3,955 people.
Liberia was declared free of Ebola on Sept. 3, while a handful of cases remain in Guinea.