The West and the media may have moved on from Ebola, but Ebola never moved on from West Africa — until now.
According to the World Health Organization's Jan. 21 Ebola situation report, the number of new cases is falling quickly in the most affected countries. The news comes as the Liberian government announced on Monday that there are currently only five confirmed cases of Ebola in the entire country, "a dramatic turnaround in the West African nation where the virus has taken its deadliest toll," the Associated Press reports.The WHO report shows that Ebola diagnoses are now halving every 10 days in Guinea, every 14 days in Liberia and every 19 days in Sierra Leone, the countries most affected by the epidemic.
For health officials, the declining number of new cases is a sign that transmission of the disease is slowing. And that's an indicator that the deadly epidemic, which has killed more than 8,600 people and infected more than 21,000 since last March, may finally be dissipating.
What the report says: In the week prior to Jan. 18, there were only 20 confirmed Ebola cases reported in Guinea, a sharp drop from the 45 cases reported the previous week. According to the WHO, case incidence has declined "for the third week in a row to the lowest level nationally since [Aug. 3]."
Liberia has seen a more drastic decline in cases: The number of new cases declined to just eight last week from a peak of over 300 confirmed cases last August and September, when the West African epidemic was at its worst.
Sierra Leone has also experienced a significant drop, with the WHO reporting only 117 new confirmed cases reported last week compared with 184 in the previous week and 248 the week before that, all down from a height of nearly 550 cases in December.
What it means: The WHO report comes amid a steady trickle of good news in West Africa's fight against Ebola. Nigeria was declared Ebola-free back in October, and Mali officially passed the 42-day threshold for new cases in mid-January.
While the Ebola virus is far from beaten in West Africa, health officials are certainly breathing a sigh of relief, considering that a September report from the Centers for Disease Control projected that between 550,000 and 1.4 million people in West Africa could be infected with the deadly virus by Jan. 20 unless governments and international health organizations took "extensive, immediate actions."
But the fight is far from over. "In the major centers, it's true we mostly have the beds and supplies we need, and that's been making a huge difference," Dr. Jeremy Farrar, one of the world's top infectious diseases doctors, told Vox earlier in January. "The difficulty lies in the more rural areas, the harder to reach areas, and making sure the epidemic is controlled there as well. All the time the epidemic continues, it runs the risk of reigniting."