Medical staff wearing protective clothing to treat the body of an Ebola victim. (AFP File Picture)
Freetown, Sierra Leone:
Sierra Leone declared today that it would stop the mandatory testing of all dead bodies for the Ebola virus, lifting a restriction put in place at the end of an outbreak that claimed thousands of lives.
The World Health Organization said on March 17 there were no more known cases of the virus in the country, which surfaced in neighbouring Guinea before spreading to Sierra Leone in May 2014.
Swabs of saliva were ordered to be systematically taken from any recently deceased person from November 2015, as part of a period of heightened surveillance following the successful containment of the virus.
From now on however, the director of Sierra Leone's Public Health Emergency Operation Centre Foday Dafae said "only deaths that meet the criteria set by the Ministry of Health will be investigated and swabbed", rather than every single corpse.
"We still want people to report all deaths so that we can (maintain) surveillance and monitor all infectious diseases, which is a key to prevent any outbreak materialising," he cautioned.
Ebola, one of the world's deadliest viruses, is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting.
The virus is infectious even after a victim has died, putting at risk people caring for the sick or handling corpses.
The disease is best contained by limiting exposure through patient isolation and safe burials.
"We are now focusing our attention to step up working with communities to prevent any future outbreak," Dafae said.
The epidemic infected a reported 28,600 people across the three hardest-hit nations, half of which were recorded in Sierra Leone, with the rest in Liberia and Guinea.