Late last week the last known Ebola patient in the country of Liberia was discharged from the hospital. This represents a number of victories, both large and small. Beginning with first principles, Beatrice Yardolo left the hospital alive and well. Things will never be the same -three of her children lost their fight with Ebola- but she recovered. Last year at this time, when workers for MSF were sounding an alarm that went unnoticed for several more months, a patient leaving the hospital in anything other than a body bag was something to celebrate.
Beatrice Yardolo begins the rest of her life (Photo Abbas Dulleh, AP)
This epidemic was so different from previous outbreaks in many ways. The sheer size and scale of it was unprecedented. The circulation in major cities was a new and terrifying feature. The departure of Ebola from the African continent resulting in spread between humans had never happened before. The epidemic has sustained for over a year. Many, myself included, suspected that Ebola would become endemic in West Africa. In other words, it would become entrenched enough that transmission would just go on continuously between humans, and the epidemic would never officially end. The discharge of Ms. Yardolo signals that we were most likely wrong, and the epidemic will end someday. That is outstanding news.
'Someday' is not in sight, however. While Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Spain, and the United States are now considered free of Ebola and there are no known active cases in Liberia at the moment, there is still a lot of work left to do in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Both have see cases begin to resurge a bit after a lengthy decline. But we as scientists have learned a lot in a very short time about Ebola, and I am cautiously optimistic.
For Liberia, the work of fighting the epidemic is taking a backseat to the next challenge. For Liberia, it is time to rebuild.
UPDATE (April 2015): Liberia has since recorded additional Ebola cases, but the situation remains under control.