RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Guinea is free of Ebola. That's according to the World Health Organization, which made the announcement yesterday. Guinea is the West African country where the deadliest Ebola outbreak on record began two years ago. To learn more, we were joined by NPR's West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Welcome to the program.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.
MONTAGNE: Remind us exactly what the World Health Organization means when it declares a country to be Ebola free.
QUIST-ARCTON: It means that, in this instance, Guinea has managed to go 42 days consecutively without any new Ebola infections. And that comes after neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia, the other two West African countries that were hardest hit by Ebola, have been through the same cycle of zero Ebola cases. But, Renee, let me just add here that Liberia has twice had to start over again after new Ebola cases were detected.
MONTAGNE: So this is not a the end of the end but at least it's a good sign it would seem. How was it decided that the Ebola outbreak started in Guinea?
QUIST-ARCTON: Initially, Renee, it wasn't clear. There was something that was killing the people in the interior, in the forest area, of the country, and nobody quite knew what it was. That lasted a good three months before it was officially declared that it was Ebola virus. So it started off in Guinea and spread quite slowly, but then spread over the border into Sierra Leone and Liberia. All told, over the past two years, Ebola has killed almost 12,000 people and at least 500 health workers. So it affected the entire population. And as you know, the World Health Organization was accused of not having declared an epidemic soon enough. And that's when we saw Ebola rampaging through Sierra Leone, Liberia and, to a lesser extent, Guinea.
MONTAGNE: Looking ahead, if Ebola does reappear, as it very well might, at least in some area, is Guinea prepared?
QUIST-ARCTON: Is Guinea prepared? And that's the question because of course these three countries had very, very weak health institutions. Many people had said that there was denial in Guinea, that many people in Guinea either said that Ebola did not exist or were hostile to any sort of Ebola health and safety awareness - how to deal with it. But perhaps even more important, Renee, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia must remain vigilant, that if you think somebody is sick with Ebola, you must get help immediately. Otherwise there could be a resurgence of Ebola. So everybody must remain vigilant.
MONTAGNE: NPR West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, thanks very much for joining us.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.