CAFOD rejoices with people of Sierra Leone - declared Ebola-free

CAFOD handwash facility Guinea

CAFOD handwash facility Guinea

Sierra Leone has been officially declared free of Ebola 18 months after the country was first hit by the devastating virus.

Sierra Leoneans took to the streets to celebrate after the World Health Organisation (WHO) made the announcement on Saturday morning (7 November) following a 42-day monitoring period of no new cases.

Chris Bain, director of CAFOD, said: "This is the joyous news that the men, women and children of Sierra Leone have been waiting for. Having gone through an unimaginable time for over a year, the relief must be palpable for the people who have had to live with this terrible disease. In a time of need, the Catholic community didn't look away. We came together with compassion and generosity to reach out to the poorest and most vulnerable."

The Catholic community of England and Wales raised more than £2million in support of CAFOD's work in training faith leaders to deliver Ebola prevention messages, and in the setting up of safe and dignified burial teams.

Laura Purves, emergency response officer for CAFOD, spent four months in Sierra Leone at the height of the Ebola outbreak, based in Kambia with the burial team. She praised individuals whose work helped ensure the country reached zero new cases. She said: "Sierra Leone has achieved this landmark because of the tireless, professional work of the burial teams, faith leaders, doctors and healthcare workers, who put their lives at risk to save and comfort those infected by this appalling disease."

Nearly 4,000 people died in Sierra Leone after the highly-contagious Ebola virus spread through the country and neighbouring Liberia and Guinea in 2014. Over 11,300 people died from the disease in the three countries in the period between March 2014 and November 2015.

Sierra Leone will now under go heightened surveillance for the next 90 days. Ebola has left behind a legacy of trauma, orphaned children, stigma and disrupted economic activity.

CAFOD has a long term country programme in Sierra Leone, and will continue to support the work of its local partners in rebuilding communities, and people's lives.

Chris Bain concluded it would be a "long road to recovery." He said: "Now more than ever we need to ensure that the havoc Ebola has wreaked on people throughout the country - stigma, loss of employment, loss of family members - is tackled."

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