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Ebola Outbreak Is Over In Liberia, Continues In Sierra Leone, Guinea


Liberians today are being asked to wear white. It's a way to honor the thousands of people who died from Ebola. That, as the country celebrates the official end of the outbreak, at least in Liberia. It's a moment to check back in with NPR's Jason Beaubien who is in Liberia's capital, Monrovia. He's been reporting for many, many months on the Ebola outbreak. Hi, Jason.


INSKEEP: What's it feel like to be in Liberia today?

BEAUBIEN: You know, it's been really joyful to be here, which is really quite amazing. This has been such a terrifying place to come to, you know, over the last year. Some incredibly dark days when the Ebola virus was just - felt like it was everywhere, and the place really felt terrifying. And to be back now and to go into churches for Mother's Day and have people hugging and shaking hands again and touching each other for the first time in so many months, it's really -it's quite a joy to be here.

INSKEEP: Well, now, what has made Liberia different from its neighbors where Ebola is still a problem?

BEAUBIEN: So Liberia has, according to the WHO, officially stopped human to human transmission of the virus. They haven't seen a single case in - it's more than 42 days, which is the WHO milestone. Sierra Leone and Guinea, however, still do have transmission going on. It should be pointed out that it's at an incredibly low level there. Nobody wants to jinx this, but it does feel like West Africa is really getting to the end of this outbreak. The cases in Sierra Leone and Guinea are all sort of clustered together on the western side of Sierra Leone. You know, all of that is good. There are still some problematic things going on in Guinea. You're getting some cases that are only being found postmortem - people who are dying in the community and then it's being confirmed that they have Ebola. You know - and that's really quite scary because, you know, potentially those people could be infecting a lot of other people before that case is actually buried. So there's still some problematic things, but overall, things are looking really quite good here.

INSKEEP: You know, Jason, as you're speaking I'm remembering last summer when health officials were saying, listen, we need to be scared, but not that scared. There is no cure for this disease, but there are ways to stop the spread, and they're fairly straightforward. Did the health officials turn out to be basically right?

BEAUBIEN: They did turn out to be basically right, but even talking to people here now, it is clear that they were not completely confident that they were going to be able to get this under control. And they were not clear that they were going to be able to get it under control as quickly as they actually did. You know, the worst days were in October, and once they turned the corner on it, they actually brought the numbers down quite quickly. It is true - they knew how to contain it. It involved making sure that people stopped transmission out in communities, and that the message just had to get out wide enough - don't touch dead bodies. If you have people who are sick, get them into treatment. And once those messages really took hold, they really managed to get control of this outbreak.

INSKEEP: Jason, thanks as always.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Monrovia, Liberia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.