Liberia’s last Ebola patient was discharged on Thursday after a ceremony in the capital, Monrovia, bringing to zero the number of known cases in the country and marking a milestone in West Africa’s battle against the disease.
Officials in Monrovia, the city where the raging epidemic littered the streets with bodies only five months ago, celebrated even as they warned that Liberia was at least weeks away from being officially declared free of Ebola. They also noted that the disease had flared up recently in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea, the two other countries hardest hit by it.
“It was touching, it was pleasing,” Tolbert Nyenswah, the deputy health minister in charge of Liberia’s fight against Ebola, said in a telephone interview about the ceremony. “There was a lot of excitement because we feel that this is a victory.”
In just two days, Liberia will celebrate what seemed an impossible dream last summer: The end of its Ebola outbreak.Saturday, May 9 will mark the 42nd day of no new Ebola cases in the country. A person with Ebola typically shows symptoms within 21 days of exposure. But the World Health Organization adds an extra 21 days for extra caution before declaring that an outbreak has ended. So on Saturday, WHO officials and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will announce that Liberia is Ebola-free.
NPR’s global health correspondent, Jason Beaubien, visited Liberia in August and October when Ebola was raging. He’s back in the country for this milestone day, and he spoke with us about the mood there.
It was swelteringly hot inside the Refuge United Methodist Church in the Sinkor section of Monrovia as Maipo Glay was given a plastic tiara, a blue sash and the title of “Mother of the Year.”
The entire 3 ½-hour service was dedicated to the mothers of the congregation. “The powerful mothers!” Reverend Allen Paye yells through a crackling sound system.
Under a corrugated metal roof, members of the choir are dancing from foot to foot, working themselves into a sweaty frenzy.
Welcome to Mother’s Day Mass in Liberia.
Pastor Paye says the Mother of the Year is a tradition at Christian churches across the country: “In the streets of Monrovia, you’ll see people wearing white from different denominations. Those are the mothers of the year.”
His church holds Mass inside an elementary school. There’s no dais, no altar, no icons of Jesus Christ on the walls. There aren’t even pews. The congregation of roughly 100 people sits on plastic chairs and wooden school benches.
When it’s time to present the crown, parishioners cluster around Glay, pinning ribbons, corsages and small-denomination banknotes to her dress.
“All of this is about honor,” Reverend Paye says of the ceremony.