At the main government hospital in the eastern town of Kenema the sense of relief is palpable. Builders repaint the peeling walls of the now-empty Ebola isolation ward, while protective suits smoulder gently on a bonfire behind the building. It has been a month since Kenema district recorded its last case of the deadly Ebola virus on November 1. Although officials insist that vigilance is key to keeping the district Ebola-free, it is clear that part of the battle has been won. “We are so happy the disease has gone far from us,” said Nabil Moussa, who for months worked inside the isolation ward. “We were afraid, but now can relax a little.”
For several months after the virus crossed the border from neighbouring Guinea in May, Sierra Leone’s eastern districts of Kailahun and Kenema bore the brunt of the epidemic. The number of cases rose rapidly, and at one point Kenema was recording more than 50 new infections per week. Dozens of health workers at Kenema’s hospital were dying, and families were being decimated in villages throughout the district.
Overall, the ongoing Ebola outbreak has killed more than 7,000 people – almost all of them in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea – and the World Health Organisation recently reported a sharp rise in deaths from the virus. More than 16,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease since the outbreak was confirmed in the forests of remote southeastern Guinea in March. But although the number of infections in Sierra Leone has spiked, most cases are concentrated in Freetown, the capital, and surrounding areas in the country’s west.