WHO evaluates Ebola outbreak one year after it began

One year after the first Ebola cases emerged in West Africa, the outbreak's continued deadly toll has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to explore the crisis in-depth in a series of papers that trace the virus' spread and WHO's response, the organization announced in a statement.

The 14 papers and interactive map outline key events in the Ebola outbreak with special attention paid to hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. They also detail factors that led to successful containment in other African countries such as Senegal and Mali, and contrast these with the factors that caused traditional outbreak control measures to fail in other regions.

The final paper, titled "What needs to happen in 2015," evaluates lessons learned from the past year to make recommendations for countries in their continuing efforts to bring the outbreak under control.

If there's one thing Ebola specialists have learned since the start of the outbreak, however, it's that predictions about the virus are maddeningly unreliable, according to an NPR report.

"Nobody was really anticipating a West African Ebola outbreak that would penetrate throughout the countries and in particular into the cities. That it would overwhelm the limited medical and public health infrastructure, that it would kill 50 percent of the nurses in many of the areas and would just break the backs of these countries," Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University told NPR. "Nobody expected that."

Still, the Liberian government is confident in its prediction that the West African country could be free of the virus by the end of February, with only 10 confirmed cases remaining as of Jan. 12, Reuters reported.

Liberia was one of the hardest-hit countries, accounting for more than 3,500 of the total 8,400 killed, according to WHO. It also was the home country of Thomas Duncan, whose misdiagnosis, death and transmission of the virus to healthcare workers in the United States highlighted gaps in infectious disease preparedness at U.S. hospitals, FierceHealthcare has reported.

Massachusetts doctor Richard Sacra, M.D., who was successfully treated in Nebraska after contracting the virus in Liberia, will return to the country to continue to support its Ebola-ravaged healthcare system, according to U.S. News & World Report.

"We may be tempted to become complacent as the number of cases starts to decline in the coming months," Sacra said in a news conference Monday, according to U.S. News. "But we must not rest until there are zero cases of Ebola, and we must not rest until the health system in Liberia and in West Africa is strong enough to contain the next outbreak, whether it be of Ebola or some other threat."

To learn more:
- check out WHO's statement
- read the papers
- read the NPR report
- read the Reuters article
- read the U.S. News report

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