A potent symbol of the nightmare enveloping West Africa at the height of the Ebola outbreak, the ELWA-3 treatment centre is being dismantled and incinerated bit by bit as the region emerges from catastrophe. The largest Ebola unit ever built opened in the Liberian capital Monrovia with 120 beds on August 17 but was immediately overwhelmed, with staff forced to turn patients away at its gates, despite more than doubling its capacity.
Five months later to the day it registered no patients at all for the first time, and staff this week marked a drastic retreat of an epidemic which has killed thousands by dismantling and burning the first tent put up at the clinic. “The number of cases has decreased significantly — we are down to five confirmed cases in Liberia,” said Duncan Bell, the field coordinator in Liberia for Medecins san Frontieres (MSF), the medical aid charity at the forefront of treating victims of the outbreak.
“In line with this development we think it was appropriate to reduce the treatment centre. Today we have 60 beds and at the end of February we hope to go down to 30 beds. This does not mean that we are closing ELWA-3 — we are just reducing the capacity.” “We still have the capacity to scale up to 120 beds within 24 hours if the need arises,” he added, as staff carried wooden planks and canvas to a large fire nearby. The worst outbreak of the virus in history has seen Liberia and its neighbours Guinea and Sierra Leone register almost 9,000 deaths in a year.
Soon after it opened, staff at ELWA-3 were struggling to screen new arrivals, care for admitted patients or safely remove dead bodies and transport them to the crematorium. By the end of the year the centre had taken in 1,826 patients, 1,225 of whom tested positive for Ebola and 498 of whom survived. But Liberia and its neighbours Sierra Leone and Guinea have reported huge progress on stemming the spread of Ebola since the summer, when the joint tally was several hundred new infections a week.