NEW: U.N. leader says the Ebola outbreak could be over by the middle of 2015
NEW: WHO chief heading to Mali, where there have been new Ebola transmissions
There have been no Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 42 days
Other nations like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are still trying to contain the virus
Ebola has officially been eradicated from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organization declared Friday, even amid fresh concerns about the deadly virus in places like Sierra Leone and Mali.
The United Nations health agency cleared the DRC for Ebola because 42 days had passed since tests came back negative on the last person with the disease and there have been no other cases since.
The WHO credited the central African country’s leadership and effective coordination, including steps to monitor those with the disease and the people they had been in contact with, for the milestone. This marks the seventh Ebola outbreak in the DRC since the virus was first identified in 1976, the agency said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has had 38 confirmed and 28 probable reported Ebola cases in recent months. Of those, 49 people – including eight health care workers – have died.
The DRC’s Ebola cases aren’t related to those in hard-hit West Africa, though they come at a time when many around the continent are dealing with the same disease. The DRC joins other countries, such as Nigeria and Senegal, that the WHO has declared Ebola-free in recent weeks.
This good news notwithstanding, Ebola remains a very real threat elsewhere, particularly in West Africa. And in some places, things are getting worse.
That includes Mali, where the first case of Ebola came from a 2½-year-old girl who’d crossed the border. Then there was a 70-year-old grand imam who came from Guinea to Bamako, where he died on October 27, prompting authorities to try to track down hundreds who were in contact with him.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called “the new trail of transmissions in Mali … a cause of deep concern,” announcing that WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan will head to the country to assist officials there.
“We must smother this little fire, this little smoke before it gets out of control,” Chan said. “… I am confident that, if we work together as one, we will be able to bring this outbreak under control.”
Six Ebola cases have been reported so far in Mali. Contrast that with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, home to the vast majority of more than 15,000 Ebola cases and over 5,000 deaths in recent months, according to a WHO report out Friday.
French President Francois Hollande plans to spend November 28-30 in that stricken region – including a visit to Guinea, a former French colony – to address how to combat the virus, the Elysee Palace announced Friday.
France is giving more than $40 million to set up Ebola treatment centers in Guinea, as well as to send medical and related equipment to that and other West African nations.
Yet that’s just a fraction of what’s been requested to help fight the disease. The United Nations this year launched a $1 billion campaign to fight Ebola, but so far, it has fallen well short of that goal.
U.N Under-Secretary-General Kandeh Yumkella told CNN’s Richard Quest on Thursday that he is “cautiously optimistic” that Ebola will be brought under control, pointing, for example, to successes containing the disease in Liberia and increased awareness in some of the hardest-hit areas.
But he also said that “infection rates are increasing exponentially” in parts of Sierra Leone, particularly its capital of Freetown. The U.N. official said the future rests in part on what and how much the international community does to help corral the virus.
Talking about Freetown, the former Sierra Leone trade minister said, “If you look at the spike in the capital, we cannot afford one minute of complacence, whether locally or internationally.”
Chan echoed this view Friday for all areas now battling Ebola, saying “we must maintain our vigilance” given that for all the places where the outbreak appears to be stabilizing, new cases are still popping up elsewhere.
But if the international community, local leaders and the residents of Africa do their part, Ban said, there’s hope that Ebola can be beaten.
“If we continue to accelerate our response,” the U.N. leader said, “we can contain and end the outbreak by the middle of next year.”
CNN’s Pierre Meilhan contributed to this report.