In Depth

Ebola virus: number of new cases on the decline in Africa

Number of new cases of Ebola at its lowest levels in months, but people are still dying

New cases of the Ebola virus have fallen to their lowest levels in months in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three worst affected countries in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization's (WHO) latest situation report.

A total of 21,296 people have been infected with Ebola since the deadly outbreak began in February last year and 8,429 are known to have died from the disease, although the real figure is likely to be much higher.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon last year predicted the epidemic could be over by as early as mid-2015, but the WHO is unwilling to set a target having already been proven wrong several times, Al Jazeera reports. A country will not be declared Ebola-free until it reports no new cases of the virus for 42 consecutive days, according to WHO standards.

The decrease in the number of cases has been attributed to an increase in international support, including more beds and treatment centres and health care workers as well an improvement in burial practices.

The current situation in:

The UK

Cases: 1

Deaths: 0

British nurse Pauline Cafferkey was diagnosed with the disease upon returning to Glasgow last month from working at a treatment centre in Sierra Leone. She is no longer in a critical condition and is showing signs of improvement, but continues to undergo treatment at a specialist London hospital.

A second British national, William Pooley, was officially diagnosed in Sierra Leone and later brought back to the UK for treatment. He made a full recovery after receiving the experimental drug zMapp. A woman admitted to hospital in Northamptonshire yesterday is "unlikely" to have the disease, say doctors.

Sierra Leone

Cases: 10,124

Deaths: 3,062

Sierra Leone remains the country worst affected by the disease, with transmission in the west of the country most intense. Although the number of new cases is declining, and is at its lowest since August, the country's health services still reported 184 new cases of the disease since last week.

Liberia

Cases: 8,331

Deaths: 3,538

Liberia is faring the best out of the three worst affected countries. At the outbreak's peak last year, Liberia reported 300 new cases of the virus a week, but in the last week only eight new cases were confirmed, the lowest number since June. Some parts of the country, including the Lofa region in the north, have been declared Ebola-free. Researchers in the US are predicting that the Ebola epidemic could be contained in Liberia by June if current hospitalisation trends continue Time reports. "Continuing on the path to elimination will require sustained watchfulness and individual willingness to be treated," researchers said.

Guinea

Cases: 2,806

Deaths: 1,814

Cases on Ebola continue to decline steadily in Guinea, and have now fallen to their lowest level since August last year. However fear surrounding the disease remains high and violent mob reactions to Ebola are frequent in the country, according to AFP. This week, two policemen were killed and their bodies set alight by an angry mob, when locals accused them of spreading the disease.

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