Ebola in West Africa: The importance of “getting to zero”
Despite progress, the region remains vulnerable to resurgence of disease
One year after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began the largest international emergency response in agency history, the goal is the same: Get to zero new Ebola cases in West Africa.
“CDC’s critical and sustained response has helped contribute to the important progress seen in West Africa, including the dramatic decrease of new Ebola cases in Liberia during the first part of the year,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “But despite these signs of hope, the fight against Ebola is far from over.”
In March 2014, public health officials reported the first outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. Recognizing the danger not only to the region but to the world, CDC responded quickly. In West Africa, CDC teams have worked with the governments of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and other international partners to:
- establish emergency operations centers in all three nations,
- trace patient contacts in some of the world’s hardest-to-reach areas,
- test more than 12,000 blood samples for Ebola virus in just one CDC lab in Sierra Leone,
- train more than 23,000 West African healthcare workers to improve infection control, and
- develop messages to help people understand how to protect themselves and their families.
In the United States, CDC helped establish airport screening to ensure all travelers from the affected West African countries are screened on arrival, and worked with state health partners to monitor returning travelers for 21 days to ensure they are Ebola-free. CDC also has helped 55 facilities in 17 states and the District of Columbia become designated as Ebola treatment centers to prepare to care for patients with Ebola if necessary. These efforts are showing progress. Liberia had a steady decrease in new cases during the first part of the year, and in March went more than 21 days. The identification in late March of a new Ebola case in Liberia and continuing identification of cases in Sierra Leone and Guinea highlight how vulnerable the region remains.
The CDC says it remain committed to helping West Africa get to zero by working with partners to strengthen public health systems in order to prevent Ebola and other outbreaks from taking hold in the future.