Back to class at one Liberian school after a seven-month break. The Ebola epidemic had hidden costs, too, and now the disease appears to be on the wane with no new infections the tens of thousands of missed hours of study have to be made up. Four weeks behind Guinea and six after Sierra Leone, the pupils are back.
These three countries were at the epicenter of an epidemic that infected 23,500 people starting at the end of 2013, killing 9,380 of them says the latest report from the WHO.
Musa Pabai survived and this is the first time he has been home since leaving hospital last November. He went into voluntary exile to protect his wife, because being cured is not the end of it.
“The semen is still infected for 90 days after the onset of the symptoms. In that case we give every male survivor who leaves our structure condoms for that period, because we think it’s very important that when they have sex they have protected sex,” says Medical Coordinator Leen Verhenne.
Doctors say Ebola is ebbing away because hygiene has improved. Hand-washing and product and contact traceability are improved, and burial rituals that made contagion easy are being changed.
However the slowing of discovered new cases has itself slowed in recent weeks, meaning the WHO has abandoned its ambition to formally announce no new cases in April. But once Ebola is beaten, it will leave behind wrecked health services in three countries.
Western Africa’s economy has also been devastated by the epidemic. The region’s GDP has collapsed by 12%, while agricultural production has halved.
Experts say only long-term help will now get them back on their feet and overcome Ebola’s crippling economic and social impacts.
To do that the teams on the ground say a lot of prejudices and conspiracy theories about the disease will need abandoning, survivors must not be made to feel guilty, and the good habits learnt must be maintained if Ebola is to be banished for good.