It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only seven months ago that President Barack Obama was leading America to certain viral apocalyptic doom by doing too much or not enough to stem the tide of Ebola cases that were sweeping across four people in the United States and/or smuggling it out of Benghazi using Secret Service agents, or something, just in time for the 2014 midterm elections. Even as those exceedingly rare and completely explainable cases panicked the entire country and had Republican governors locking up hero nurses, the Ebola virus was still devastating several nations in West Africa, particularly Liberia.
Since then, though, the copious assistance provided by the Obama administration has been paying off, and on Saturday, the White House announced that Liberia, the nation with the highest death toll during the current outbreak at 4,716, is now officially Ebola-free (via email from The White House):
Statement by the Press Secretary on Liberia
Today, the Republic of Liberia reached the important milestone of 42 days without reporting a new Ebola case, and we are pleased the World Health Organization was able to declare the end of the country’s current outbreak. We congratulate the people of Liberia on reaching this important marker, and once again pledge our commitment to ending the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and helping to rebuild Liberia and other affected nations. As President Obama said when Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited the White House last month, “We’re proud to partner with you and we intend to see this through until the job is done.” While this milestone is important, the world must not forget that the Ebola outbreak still persists in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea. We must not let down our guard until the entire region reaches and stays at zero Ebola cases. And we must all work together to strengthen capacity around the world to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to outbreaks before they become epidemics.
As the White House statement points out, the outbreak isn’t quite over, but even in Sierra Leone and Guinea, there were fewer than 20 cases reported last week, compared with over 750 a week during the respective peaks of the outbreak in those countries, and a sharp dropoff even from recent low totals:
A total of 18 confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) was reported in the week to 3 May: Guinea and Sierra Leone each reported 9 cases. This is the lowest weekly total this year, and comes after a month-long period during which case incidence fluctuated between 30 and 37 confirmed cases per week. That both countries have each reported fewer than 10 cases is encouraging, but it is important to guard against complacency. Liberia has reported fewer than 10 cases per week since the start of January this year, but the outbreak will be declared to have ended only if no new cases are reported up to 9 May, which marks 42 complete days since the burial of the last confirmed case.
The Ebola crisis also spurred work on Ebola vaccines, which have already performed well in clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health. All in all, the hysteria over the Ebola outbreak seems to have been a good thing, creating a nucleus of political will to tackle a deadly problem a world away from us, and if all goes well, defeating it. During the outbreak, the United States deployed thousands of military and civilian personnel to the region to train medical workers and to construct Ebola Treatment Units in the region, and headed an international coalition that contributed over $2 billion in aid to fight the disease. Even Congress approved almost all of the funding President Obama asked for.
There’s that old adage in the news business that you don’t report on all the planes that land safely, but given the degree to which they helped create the panic that fueled much of the willingness to help, maybe the news media could make an exception in this case.
Update: Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN have mentioned “Ebola” a total of zero times Monday morning, according to a transcript database search.