CONAKRY, Guinea, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Guinea, where the Ebola epidemic began two years ago, has been declared free of the deadly virus by the World Health Organization.
Ebola killed more than 2,500 people in the West African state, with another 9,000 dying in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, which were declared Ebola-free in September and November, respectively -- although Liberia experienced new cases since.
"This is the first time that all three countries -- Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- have stopped the original chains of transmission that were responsible for starting this devastating outbreak two years ago," Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Regional Director for Africa, said in a statement. "I commend the governments, communities and partners for their determination in confronting this epidemic to get to this milestone."
At least 10 new small outbreaks of Ebola were seen between March and November in Guinea. The WHO will maintain surveillance and outbreak response teams in the three countries throughout 2016.
The WHO congratulated the Guinean government and people for showing "extraordinary leadership in fighting the epidemic."
"The coming months will be absolutely critical," Dr. Bruce Aylward from the WHO's Ebola response team said in a statement. "This is the period when the countries need to be sure that they are fully prepared to prevent, detect and respond to any new cases."
More than 28,600 people were afflicted with Ebola during the outbreak, of which more than 11,300 died. Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and non-human primates.