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Ebola Virus Outbreak

With Just a Few New Cases of Ebola, Liberia’s Kids Head Back to School

Image: Dr. Steven Hatch carries Blessing Gea, 9, from the suspected ward to the confirmed high-risk ward after a blood test showed her positive for Ebola, at a clinic run by the International Medical Corps.

Dr. Steven Hatch carries Blessing Gea, 9, from the suspected ward to the confirmed high-risk ward after a blood test showed her positive for Ebola, at a clinic run by the International Medical Corps in the Suakoko of Liberia. She recovered. DANIEL BEREHULAK / The New York Times via Redux Pictures

There’s some good news out of the Ebola epidemic. The virus has slowed so much in Liberia that local officials are re-opening the schools there and global health officials say they can now shift into a new mode: trying to end the epidemic.

Liberia reported just four new cases of Ebola last week — a far cry from 300 new cases per week reported there, on average, during August and September. That gives officials a break from scrambling just to isolate and treat patients. Now, they can really start working on putting out the embers of the epidemic.

“For the first time since the week ending 29 June 2014, there have been fewer than 100 new confirmed cases reported in a week in the three most-affected countries,” the World Health Organization said in a statement.

"There have been fewer than 100 new confirmed cases reported in a week."

“A combined total of 99 confirmed cases were reported from the three countries in the week to 25 January: 30 in Guinea, four in Liberia, and 65 in Sierra Leone.”

That means officials can begin to re-open the country’s 5,000 schools, which have been closed since July.

“This is obviously a time for much celebration for a country that has been ravaged by the worst Ebola outbreak in history,” said Steve Morgan, who directs efforts in Liberia for the aid group Save the Children.

“However, we must be sure that schools re-open safely so that students and parents needn’t fear a flare up of the disease.”

“This is obviously a time for much celebration."

Save the Children says 1 million Liberian kids were shut out when schools closed. The group has been trying to help Liberian officials hold classes over the radio and distribute educational materials door to door.

Getting children back to school will be a long haul, the group cautions. “More than half of Liberia’s schools lack a reliable supply of water, suffer from poor infrastructure and don’t have adequate supplies. Therefore, the re-opening date of 2 February should be seen as a starting point and not an end date,” Save the Children said in a statement.

Liberia’s faring the best of the three West African countries worst hit by the epidemic.

American Woman in Liberia Describes Ebola's Toll on Children 2:31

Guinea reported 30 confirmed cases last week while Sierra Leone reported 366 cases in 21 days. But for the three countries, that adds up to 478 Ebola cases in 21 days — still worse than the worst previous outbreak ever. That was in Uganda in 2000, when 425 people were infected and 225 died.

Overall, this epidemic has infected 22,057 people and killed 8,795, WHO says.