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WHO Declares Ebola Outbreak Over, Says ‘Vigilance’ is Needed

Update Date: Jan 14, 2016 09:45 AM EST

The Ebola outbreak in Africa, responsible for more than 11,300 deaths is over, the United Nations health agency, the World Health Organization (WHO), officially announced on Thursday.

"Detecting and breaking every chain of transmission has been a monumental achievement," Margaret Chan, WHO's director general, said. "So much was needed and so much was accomplished by national authorities, heroic health workers, civil society, local and international organizations and generous partners."

The statement comes after Liberia, the last West African country to report a case of Ebola, was declared free of the virus. Health authorities stated that over the past 42 days, there have been no new cases of the virus. The other two West African countries, Sierra Leone and Guinea, were officially freed of Ebola last year.

Despite the progress that has been made to contain the virus and end the outbreak, officials noted, "more flare-ups are expected." Liberia has been declared Ebola-free two times in 2015. However, after each declaration, a group of new cases had been reported. In order to prevent future cases from spreading, countries must have "strong surveillance and response systems."

"Our work is not done and vigilance is necessary to prevent new outbreaks," Chan stressed.

The Ebola outbreak started in December 2013 and peaked the following year. For two years, the virus continued to infect and kill people until health authorities were able to control it. Funding that came from the United States also helped with the treatment and prevention of the disease.

President Barack Obama praised the work of the medical staff in his State of the Union address.

"They set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved," he said on Tuesday.

The U.S. had set aside $5.4 billion in emergency funding for Ebola. Some experts criticized the U.S. as well as other organizations for stepping in so late.

Due to the poor initial response to the Ebola outbreak, health experts continue to stress the importance of being better prepared for future outbreaks of diseases in general.

"Today's WHO announcement is welcome news but we must learn from Ebola's devastating impact and ensure we are better prepared for infectious disease outbreaks," Dr. Seth Berkley, the head of the nonprofit organization, GAVI Alliance, which is committed to increasing the accessibility of vaccinations in low-income nations, said reported by Reuters. "The world is still worryingly underprepared for potential future health threats and a change of mind-set is required to ensure we invest in research and development today to protect ourselves in years to come."

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