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Liberia Is Officially Declared Free Of Ebola

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The West African nation of Liberia has defeated Ebola. I'm going to say that again just to savor it. Liberia has defeated Ebola. The World Health Organization made it official today. It was a day that many people worried would never come. At the announcement ceremony Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recalled the worst moments of the crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF: From time to time, I try to relive those horrifying moments when parents were calling to what was the first center and couldn't get responses, when doctors and nurses were running away from hospitals, a place where they've learned to serve, and they themselves were dying.

RATH: Now, Liberia has done what once seemed impossible. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in the Liberian capital Monrovia. He joins me on the line. Jason, tell us about the reaction to the announcement there.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Yeah. Liberians are incredibly happy to be putting this awful disease behind them. When the news went out on the radio, people started honking their horns. As people came out of the room where the president had just made that announcement, people started hugging each other and shaking hands again, which is something - which has been banned during this whole outbreak. And there's sort of this pent-up desire to hug your colleagues, and people were pulling on T-shirts, saying Liberia is Ebola-free.

And I talked to Dr. Moses Massaquoi, he was the chair of the national task force on Ebola, just as he was coming out of the meeting when this announcement was made.

MOSES MASSAQUIO: My reaction is that I'm just hilariously happy and that this is a day that we've been longing for. Now that we can put our lives together, development can come again. Our kids can go to school, and that's very important.

RATH: It's beautiful to hear about. Now, we did hear, though, that when President Sirleaf made the announcement, there wasn't a grand ceremony or a big public declaration. Why was it such a low-key announcement?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. She did it in just a conference room at what was normally the normal morning meeting for the Ebola management team. She just came into this room. You know, it was planned, of course, but it was nothing grand. The problem is that neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea haven't yet wiped out transmission of Ebola, so here in Liberia, they don't want to look like they're throwing a big party while their brothers are still dying next door. So there's sort of this mixture of excitement that they've gotten through this and yet still concerned that this disease continues to spread in other parts of West Africa.

RATH: Jason, Liberia at one point was reporting 300 new Ebola cases per week. More than 10,000 people got infected. What was it that happened in Liberia that allowed them to get the outbreak under control?

BEAUBIEN: You know, it was a lot of things that came together to allow Liberia to be the first of these three nations to wipe out Ebola entirely - definitely the international response medical teams coming in, helping out building these Ebola treatment units. But really, this was a Liberian victory.

Ultimately, what turned the tide here was when communities started taking control of the epidemic and the outbreak and really, you know, making sure that when people got infected, they got the treatment, making sure that people knew that if someone was sick, you couldn't touch them, making sure that people didn't continue to do some of the burial practices which here involves actually washing the body at home oftentimes - you know, making sure that people didn't do that. And the communities actually enforced those rules themselves and changed their practices in a way that kept them safe and ultimately stopped the transmission of this incredibly scary, deadly virus here in Liberia.

RATH: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Monrovia. Good to speak with you, Jason. Thank you.

BEAUBIEN: It's great to talk with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.