The fight against the deadly Ebola virus showed significant signs of progress in West Africa this week, but an updated global death toll and news of a secondary outbreak in Mali offered a reminder of the work ahead.
The latest good news comes from Liberia, where President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she was lifting a state of emergency imposed to control the spread of Ebola within the country. In a nationwide address on Thursday, the president said enough progress had been made to lift emergency measures. But she emphasized that the move does not mean the outbreak is over, the Associated Press reports.
Ms. Johnson Sirleaf's announcement comes on the same day that Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, said clinical trials to treat Ebola would start in West Africa next month. The accelerated trials shorten the usual lengthy process used to test treatments using animals and healthy people.
Researchers plan to test two antiviral drugs, rincidofovir and favipiravir, that they say could help patients survive Ebola, reports The Wall Street Journal. They'll conduct some of the tests in patients at treatment centers in Guinea, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.
Regulators have yet to sign off on either drug to treat Ebola, which has no approved drug protocol. Health workers treat infected patients solely through supportive care such as replacing body fluids.
"We need to keep in mind that there is no guarantee that these therapies will be the miracle cure," Annick Antierens of MSF said in a statement. "But we need to do all we can to try the products available today to increase the chances of finding an effective treatment against Ebola."
The latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) underscores the need for a cure, especially for the people of West Africa. The organization said on Wednesday that 5,160 people had died of Ebola out of 14,098 cases of infection in eight countries, with the vast majority occurring in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.
The WHO has acknowledged that the number of deaths is likely much higher. It estimates that the fatality rate among Ebola patients in the current outbreak – the deadliest ever – is about 70 percent.
The updated toll, which runs up until Nov. 9, comes as the WHO reports that four people in Mali have died from confirmed or probable Ebola infections.
On Wednesday, more than 90 people were quarantined across Mali's capital, Bamako, after a nurse died of Ebola. The woman caught the virus while treating a Guinea man with Ebola-like symptoms that were not recognized before he died, Reuters reports.
The man, a Muslim imam from the border town of Kouremale, was never tested for Ebola. In a series of rites that may have exposed many mourners to the deadly virus, his highly contagious body was washed in a Bamako mosque and returned to Guinea for burial without precautions against Ebola.
About 20 United Nations peacekeepers who were at the same clinic as the nurse were quarantined as a precaution, the UN told Reuters.
Mali became the sixth West African nation directly affected by Ebola when a two-year-old girl died of the disease there last month. Now health officials have to track down all the people who were in contact with the nurse. The people found linked to the two-year-old girl, Mali's first confirmed case, completed their 21-day quarantine on Tuesday.