TIME ebola

Doctors Without Borders Sees Fewer New Ebola Cases

SWITZERLAND-HEALTH-EBOLA-REDCROSS-AID-TRAINING
Health workers of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and medical charity Doctors Without Borders take part in a pre-deployment training for staff heading to Ebola areas on Oct. 29, 2014 in Geneva. Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

“We are on the right track," said Brice de la Vingne, the group's director of operations

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), says it’s seeing declines in new cases of Ebola in its centers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

There are just over 50 patients currently in MSF’s Ebola treatment centers across the three countries, the organization announced on Monday.

“This decline is an opportunity to focus efforts on addressing the serious weaknesses that remain in the response,” Brice de la Vingne, MSF director of operations said in a statement. “We are on the right track, but reaching zero cases will be difficult unless significant improvements are made in alerting new cases and tracing those who have been in contact with them.”

There is still work to do on that score; in Guinea and Liberia only half of the new cases are people who are known contacts of people with Ebola. Since just a single case can spur an outbreak, more contact tracing is needed.

MORE: TIME Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

In Sierra Leone, incidences of Ebola have dropped to their lowest levels since August, though there are still hot zones like the country’s capital of Freetown. Guinea’s caseloads are also dropping, but more cases are coming from regions that were previously thought to be leveling out. Liberia has experienced some of the greatest drops out of all three countries. MSF says that on Jan. 17, there were no Ebola cases at the organization’s ELWA 3 Ebola management center in the capital city of Monrovia, and currently there are only two patients.

The latest case numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO) show cases have reached 21,724 with 8,641 deaths.

TIME ebola

The Ebola Fight Has Reached a ‘Turning Point’ in West Africa, the WHO Says

Guinea West Africa Ebola
A health care worker, right, takes the temperatures of school children for signs of the Ebola virus before they enter their school in the city of Conakry, Guinea, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Youssouf Bah—AP

But the World Health Organization says vigilance is imperative to prevent reinfection in seemingly eradicated areas

The fight against Ebola has reached a “turning point,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO), as the three West African countries hit hardest by the deadly virus — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — see a precipitous drop in the number of new cases.

Liberia, which reported almost 9,000 cases since the deadly outbreak began in 2013, only detected eight new cases last week, reports the BBC. On some days, no new cases materialize at all, a heartening sign in a country where doctors once saw 509 new cases weekly at their peak.

“I would have identified the turning point as the beginning of the decline, first in Liberia and then later in Sierra Leone and Guinea,” Dr. Christopher Dye, the director of Ebola strategy for the WHO director general, told the BBC. “The incidence is pretty clearly going down in all three countries now.”

In Sierra Leona, where the health crisis once saw 748 cases flooding into hospitals each week, numbers are also stabilizing. The story is similar in Guinea, where the Ebola crisis reached a crescendo at 292 cases per week late last year.

Worldwide, Ebola has killed nearly 8,700 people and infected over 20,000 in one of the largest public health emergencies in recent memory.

Still, health officials at the WHO are exercising caution and warning that Ebola can reappear if risks are not properly mitigated. “Contact tracing,” or detecting everyone who ever came into contact with an Ebola-afflicted patient, is crucial to thwart future infection. Even one case cropping up can re-infect seemingly eradicated areas.

TIME ebola

Priests Assaulted in Guinea After Being Mistaken for Ebola Workers

They had gone to a local village to spray insecticides

Three priests from a church in Guinea were physically assaulted while visiting the village of Kabac on Tuesday, as locals suspected they were health workers who would expose inhabitants to the Ebola virus.

The villagers beat up the priests, who had planned to spray insecticide around the area, the BBC reported. They also vandalized the nearby town council building, setting fire to it after burning the priests’ car.

Guinea, one of the three West African countries worst affected by the Ebola outbreak, has lost nearly 2,000 people to the disease. The nation’s schools reopened earlier this week following a five-month break, soon after the U.N. said the number of cases nationwide had fallen to its lowest weekly total since August.

[BBC]

TIME Guinea

Schools to Re-Open in Guinea as Ebola Situation Improves

Guinea Ebola
Lansana Kamano, right, a traditional healer, and children sit in the Guinean village of Meliandou, believed to be Ebola's ground zero, some 400 miles south-east of Conakry, Guinea, Nov. 23, 2014. Jerome Delay—AP

Schools will remain closed in Sierra Leone where the outbreak is most severe

Guinea’s health minister says all schools that were closed following the spread of Ebola are to reopen on Monday.

Health minister Remy Lamah told The Associated Press in Accra, Ghana during an ECOWAS summit that the action is being taken “because the situation has improved.”

In Liberia, the schools are reopening “next month,” the charges d’Affaires of the Liberian Embassy in Ghana, Musu Ruhle, said.

Schools will remain closed in Sierra Leone, where the outbreak is hitting the hardest.

“We are monitoring the situation and would take a decision after that,” said Sierra Leone Health Minister Foday Sawi Lahai. “We have imported thermometers to be used for surveillance in the schools. Once that is done and the number of cases keep falling, we would consider (reopening schools).”

TIME Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Jan. 5, 2015

A compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Daniel Berehulak‘s stunning work from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone for a comprehensive New York Times account that charts the devastating resurgence of Ebola in West Africa last year. One of the photographs captures the Guinean village where a one-year-old boy, considered to be Patient Zero of the outbreak, died just over a year ago. It’s both painterly yet haunting, as it captures the birth place of a health crisis that has led to thousands of deaths.

Daniel Berehulak: How Ebola Roared Back (The New York Times) See also the slideshow: Ebola Ravages Economies in West Africa

Ross McDonnell: Notes from Underground (TIME LightBox) Pictures show civilians in eastern Ukraine sheltering in Cold War era bunkers

Brendan Hoffman (BBC Radio 4 World at One) Hoffman about his work in Ukraine and on the MH17 crash site

Toward A New Documentary Expression (Aperture) Stephen Mayes reflects on documentary photography’s shifting terrain

PhotoBooks 2014 (Vogue Italia) The magazine asked photo editors, artists, photographers and photography experts to choose the photobooks that defined the year

TIME ebola

Ebola Cases Reach Over 20,000

Health workers push a gurney with a dead body at a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district Eastern Sierra Leone on Dec. 19, 2014.
Health workers push a gurney with a dead body at a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district Eastern Sierra Leone on Dec. 19, 2014. Baz Ratner—Reuters

There's close to 400 new cases in just four days

Cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have reached over 20,000.

New numbers released from the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday show Ebola has infected 20,081 people and killed 7,842. That’s nearly 400 new cases of the disease in just four days.

Despite missions launched by countries and international groups like the United States and United Nations in the last few months, the disease continues to spread. Sierra Leone has passed Liberia in number of cases. Many are anxiously awaiting a vaccine that’s been estimated to become available in the early part of the new year and researchers are also working on developing drugs to treat Ebola.

Some experts believe the epidemic will last a full second year.

MORE: TIME Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

TIME ebola

Ebola-Stricken Families to Receive Cash Payments

Hawa Musa with her mother and children. Of 25 people living in the house, 17 have died from ebola, including her husband.
Hawa Musa (blue) with her mother and children. Musa used to rent rooms for income, but no one wants to rent her rooms anymore. She previously had 25 people living in her house, but 17 died of Ebola including her husband and a few of her children. She's taken in 10 more kids. Carly Learson—Carly Learson / UNDP

In 2015, the three Ebola-affected countries will start offering cash payments for families hit by Ebola, as well as survivors having trouble re-acclimating to society out of stigma for the disease.

Every aspect of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone’s societies have taken a hit from Ebola, and the disease has shocked what were once fragile but growing economies. Public spaces are now forbidden, so markets are empty, tourists are no longer traveling into the countries and international companies have largely pulled out, including large industries like mining. The World Bank estimates the aftershock of Ebola to already weakened economies will be “devastating.”

“We are seeing a backwards slide of development of about 10 years,” says Boaz Paldi, chief of media and advocacy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “The outlook is not good. We are fearful for these countries.” That’s why instead of waiting for caseloads to reach manageable numbers, the three countries, with the help of UNDP and other partners, are laying the groundwork now for rebuilding the damaged economies. One of the first major initiatives to be rolled out in the new year are cash transfers and payments to families who no longer have breadwinners and survivors out of work. Many women in the Ebola-affected countries have taken in orphaned children of their family members or neighbors, despite having no steady income.

Dudu Kromah's husband died recently from ebola. She is looking after ten children, many of them orphans including a 3-month-old baby.
Dudu Kromah’s husband died from Ebola. She is looking after ten children, many of them orphans including a 3-month-old baby. She has no income. Carly Learson—Carly Learson / UNDP

According to UNDP leaders, plans for the payment process are still being refined. Lists of names of affected families and survivors are being collected and coordinated for small pilot programs, starting early next year, to test the effectiveness of the payments in preparation for widespread efforts. UNDP has calculated that around $50 will keep a family of five going in the three countries with essential needs for one month, with some variations by country. The group is anticipating making monthly payments to 150-200,000 people in each of the countries.

Ultimately, the payment program may develop into a cash-for-work model, with payments in exchange for work rebuilding communities in an effort to inject cash into the local economy and enable people to earn a living.

Ideas for how to get youth involved are also being considered. In Sierra Leone, Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, the deputy director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, spoke to young people concerned that since residents can no longer go to their local markets, they are unable to buy the food they need. “So why not start a delivery company to have food delivered to the different communities? How can we provide the start-up capital for young people who want to initiative those types of activities?” says Sandhu-Rojon.

The three countries and the U.N., which launched the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) earlier this year, are also looking to the private sector. On Dec. 11 the U.N. held a U.N.-Business Collaboration for Global Ebola Response meeting as a way to get the private sector involved in both the response and recovery. A panel of high-level representatives from U.N. Missions in the affected countries, the U.S., U.K., and France put out a call for help from companies in areas major like logistics. Ultimately, the greatest plea was for companies to return to the countries and invest.

Sadly, all three countries were experiencing high growth rates before the start of Ebola, after coming out of conflicts like civil war. Sierra Leone had only recently launched its “Agenda for Prosperity,” a high-level initiative to become a middle-income country by 2035. High growth rates could largely be attributed to extractive industries like mining, which have now largely decreased their production or shut down, causing a government shortfall in revenue and massive loss of employment. Remaining national resources have been reallocated to the Ebola fight.

“It’s very disheartening, because all three of these countries were on their way up,” says Sandhu-Rojon.

The hope is cash payments will be a boost to help people get by. But increasingly more support and funding will be needed from the international community and private sector to get the countries back on their feet. Whether the countries will make it back to pre-Ebola growth may be a much greater, and longer battle.

TIME ebola

5 Million Kids Aren’t in School Because of Ebola

Schools closed in Sierra Leone after Ebola outbreak
A classroom of a school stands abandoned on Aug. 25, 2014 in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Schools closed and villages quarantined after dozens of its congregation died with Ebola symptoms. Mohammed Elshamy—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Children from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are still out of school. Here's what's being done

Public schools in Guinea have been closed since March. Schools in Sierra Leone and Liberia never opened after the summer holiday. All told, the children’s rights and emergency relief group UNICEF estimates that 5 million children ages 3 to 17 are out of school due to Ebola.

“This Ebola crisis has been predominantly seen as a health crisis but its implications go way beyond health,” says Sayo Aoki, an education specialist for UNICEF working in the affected countries. “It’s time we start looking at it from other perspectives, and education is part of that.”

Some schools were closed out of fear the disease could spread in large gatherings while others had no access to water, making handwashing impossible. But the longer a child stays out of school, the less likely it is he or she will return—which is why UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health to come up with protocols necessary to implement in order to let children back into the classrooms. The draft—which calls for measures like Ebola screenings, hygiene requirements and a plan in the event a suspected case—is currently being reviewed by experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. and the World Health Organization.

MORE: TIME’s Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

In the meantime, UNICEF and partner NGOs have trained out-of-work teachers to act as “social mobilizers,” going door to door to spread messages about how to identify Ebola and prevent its spread. UNICEF and partners are also using the radio programs to offer long-distance learning while kids are kept at home. “We are trying to make [the radio shows] simple and more interesting so children will get some learning,” says Aoki. “If they listen to it at a certain time of the day during the week, it gives them a routine they’ve lost from not going to school. It brings them a sense of normalcy, some sort of stability and hope.”

Stability has been largely destroyed for many children living in Ebola-affected countries. Many have seen family members, friends and neighbors get infected, and many have become orphans as well. Ebola has also changed social mores. “Nobody shakes hands in public,” says Aoki. “It has put a lot of stress on children. There’s no cuddling, no hugging, no kissing. The simple joys of life have been taken away.”

Even before Ebola, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia were economically troubled countries still emerging from conflict and civil war. Guinea and Liberia were in the process of increasing their school attendance numbers—Guinea was at 58% and Liberia was at 34%—and experts worry that Ebola has set progress back. School closures, including private schools, are also a bad economic indicator. Jeff Trudeau, the director of The American International School of Monrovia (AISM) told TIME in August that he lost more than half his expected students for the 2014 school year, many of whom were children of foreign families who moved to the region for jobs in Liberia’s burgeoning business sector. That school’s earliest possible start date is January and for others, there appear to be “moving” deadlines for reopening. Guinea is aiming for January while Liberia and Sierra Leone are hoping for March.

But all the countries will have to patiently wait until their caseloads are under control, since a premature opening may only add fuel to the fire.

TIME ebola

Sierra Leone Has Overtaken Liberia in Ebola

A burial team extracts the body of Isatu Sesay, 16, an Ebola victim, from her home in Kissi Town, Sierra Leone.
A burial team extracts the body of Isatu Sesay, 16, an Ebola victim, from her home in Kissi Town, Sierra Leone, Nov. 22, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York Times/Redux

It now has more cases than anywhere in the world

Sierra Leone has the highest number of Ebola cases of any country, according to the most recent World Health Organization statistics.

Sierra Leone has seen 7,780 cases of Ebola, more than the 7,719 cases in Liberia, WHO figures published on Monday show. Some 17,800 people have fallen ill with virus in those two countries and in Guinea, 6,187 of whom have died.

In the WHO’s latest situation report, published last week, the group said its goal of safely burying 70 % of Ebola victims and isolating 70 % of Ebola patients had been met in “most districts” of the three hardest-hit West African countries. The WHO cited Liberia as a bright point in the global effort to contain the disease, reporting that case incidence was “stable or declining” in the struggling nation, where 3,177 people have died from the disease.

Yet the WHO said that transmission of the virus was still “intense” in Sierra Leone, which at the beginning of the month reported more than 500 new cases over a period of just days.

TIME infectious diseases

Malaria Deaths Have Almost Halved Since 2000 Says WHO Report

But eliminating the disease altogether remains an uphill task

Global deaths from malaria, as well as the number of overall malaria cases, have reduced dramatically in the last thirteen years, the World Health Organization said in a statement on Tuesday.

According to the World Malaria Report 2014, the mortality rate for the disease decreased by 47% worldwide since 2000, and the number of people infected by it went from 173 million the same year to 128 million in 2013.

“We have the right tools and our defenses are working,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. “But we still need to get those tools to a lot more people if we are to make these gains sustainable.”

The report attributed the progress combating malaria to increased access to insecticide-treated mosquito nets and enhanced diagnostics and treatment, but admitted that there is still a lot of work to be done.

The increased susceptibility to the disease in Ebola-affected countries like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is an added cause for concern.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser