The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was officially declared on 22 March 2104 in Guinea. The outbreak was the largest ever, and has claimed more than 11,313 lives in the six affected countries in West Africa (Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone).

On 14 January 2016, Liberia was declared the last country in West Africa to be free of the Ebola virus in this epidemic, though news of recent confirmed death in Sierra Leone means that the outbreak cannot be considered to be over.

The world also needs to learn its lessons from this epidemic. This Ebola response was not limited by lack of international means but by a lack of political will to rapidly deploy assistance to help communities. The needs of patients and affected communities must remain at the heart of any response and outweigh political interests.

  • Liberia: The last patient was declared negative on 4 December. The countdown has started again and should be over 14 January.

  • Guinea: Guinea was declared free of Ebola on 28 December. MSF has an Ebola clinic for survivors. Since March 2014 (start of the epidemic), MSF teams treated 10,376 patients in West Africa including 3,804 patients in Guinea. The authorities reported that 110 health workers died from the virus in the country.

  • Sierra Leone: [UPDATE: A recent death in Sierra Leone has just been confirmed to be from Ebola. Details to follow] The country was declared free of Ebola on 7 November 2015. MSF played a key leading role in treating people who suffered from the virus and continue to provide medical and psychosocial services to some of the country’s 4,051 Ebola survivors in Freetown and Tonkolili district. New projects on maternal and child health should open soon in different towns of the country (Kabala, Magburaka, Kenema). MSF will also maintain an emergency response capacity through a small team.

More information about MSF's response to the Ebola outbreak is available in the January 2016 crisis update.

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a virus that is transmitted through direct contact with blood, bodily secretions, organs and infected people. Ebola first appeared in 1976, and although its origins are unknown, bats are considered the likely host. MSF has intervened in almost all reported Ebola outbreaks in recent years, but until 2014 these were usually geographically contained and involved more remote locations. Ebola has a mortality rate of between 25 and 80 per cent, and as there is currently no vaccine or treatment for the virus patient care is centred on hydration and treating the symptoms such as fever and nausea. Ebola starts with flu-like symptoms, followed by vomiting and diarrhoea and in some cases haemorrhaging and often death.  Despite being so deadly, it is a fragile virus that can be easily killed with sunshine, heat, bleach, chlorine and even soap and water.

Preventing transmission is essential: patients are treated in Ebola Treatment Centres where strict infection control procedures are in force. Identifying those people the patient was in contact with when they were ill becomes a priority, as do safe burials. Community health promotion is also undertaken to inform the community about the threat and how to try and keep themselves safe and what to do if they develop signs.

What is MSF doing?

MSF’s Ebola response started in March 2014. In addition to our response to the Ebola epidemic in the three worst affected countries – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – MSF also responded to the cases in Nigeria, Senegal and Mali, as well as a separate epidemic in Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014.

At its peak, MSF employed nearly 4,000 national staff and over 325 expatriate staff to combat the epidemic across the three countries.

MSF now continues to provide health care to Ebola survivors and to local populations through the development of new activities. Two Ebola clinics in Sierra Leone and one in Liberia already offer medical and psychological services to the survivors, and a clinic has also been opened in Guinea.

Since the beginning of the epidemic:

  • 10,376 patients admitted to MSF Ebola Management Centres
  • 5,226 patients confirmed with Ebola
  • 2,478 patients recovered from Ebola in our centres

For more about MSF's response, see the latest Crisis Update.

- Read the FAQs
- Interactive guide to an Ebola centre

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