Senegal officially declared Ebola-free

The World Health Organization said Friday that Senegal is officially free of the Ebola virus.

The final individual who had contact with Senegal’s one reported case of Ebola completed the required 21-day monitoring period by medical personnel, developed no symptoms and tested negative for the virus, the agency said in a statement.

The only Ebola case in Senegal was confirmed on Aug. 29. It was a man who had traveled to Senegal’s capital Dakar from his home in Guinea, where he had direct contact with an Ebola patient.

When he went to Dakar, he stayed with relatives and had close contact with 74 people. They were monitored and the five who developed flu-like symptoms tested negative for Ebola. After the initial man was declared Ebola-free, he was allowed to return to Guinea on Sept. 18.

WHO pointed to Senegal’s detailed Ebola response plan, in place as early as March when this year’s outbreak in West Africa began, and its extensive health resources as key to stopping the spread of Ebola.

The agency also praised the government for keeping a humanitarian corridor open while the country was on high alert to allow the continued flow of food, medicine and other necessary supplies.

Dr. Isabelle Nuttall, WHO’s director of global capacities, alert and response, said at a Thursday press briefing that Senegal remains high on the agency’s priority assistance list, along with Guinea Bissau, Mali, and the Ivory Coast, because they all have long borders with the most affected Ebola countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have had 9,191 confirmed or probable Ebola cases since March and 4,546 deaths, according to the WHO.

“Cases are doubling every four weeks,” said Nuttall.

About a dozen other African countries have been identified by the WHO as needing extra support because of their health care systems, and high trade and travel routes with the Ebola-stricken nations.

“We want to ensure they have enough personal protective equipment in place, and health care workers who are trained on how to use the equipment” in case an outbreak occurs, she said.

Besides health care training, other procedures that countries should put in place include having a number for people to call if they suspect they have Ebola, and deploying a rapid-response Ebola team to isolate confirmed cases, track down their contacts and alert the community, said Nuttall.

If the countries don’t have their own laboratories, they should know where to send samples to make the diagnosis, she said.

And in terms of transporting the patient, the best ambulance is not a closed one like a van, Nuttall added. “It’s a pickup. Why? The driver is protected. The person can be put in the back and therefore, you limit the manipulation of the person.”