Liberians vote in historic, delayed election

George Weah, former soccer player and presidential candidate of Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), prepares his ballot during presidential elections at a polling station in Monrovia, Liberia, December 26, 2017.

By James Giahyue and Alphonso Toweh

MONROVIA (Reuters) – Liberians went to the polls on Tuesday for a presidential election they hope will mark their first democratic transfer of power in more than seven decades, despite allegations of fraud.

Former world footballer of the year George Weah is squaring up against vice president Joseph Boakai, both of them promising to tackle poverty and corruption in a country where most citizens have no reliable electricity or clean drinking water.

They are bidding to succeed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a run-off vote delayed for more than a month after Boakai and another candidate alleged widespread fraud in October’s first-round vote, a challenge that the Supreme Court rejected this month.

There were no reports of violence as voting proceeded under sunny skies in the capital Monrovia. Election agents told Reuters first indications pointed to a lower turnout than in the first round.

“It is great day for Liberia – a test day for democracy,” said Boakai after casting his vote in Paynesville. “We will accept the results provided they meet all the standards.”

Officials said results were expected in the next few days, declining to give a specific date.

Johnson Sirleaf’s 12-year rule cemented peace in the West African country after civil war ended in 2003, and brought in much needed aid.

But critics, including much of the country’s youth, say her administration was marred by corruption and that she did little to raise most Liberians out of dire poverty.

Liberia was also racked by the Ebola crisis, which killed thousands between 2014 and 2016, while a drop in iron ore prices since 2014 has dented export revenues.

Weah, world footballer of the year in 1995, won with 38 percent in the first round versus Boakai’s 29 percent.

“I voted George Weah because I believe that he will do better for me and my country. I want change,” said Miama Kamara, a 32-year-old businesswoman, after casting her ballot in the capital.


Observers from the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute said polling stations were better organised than in the first round.

The National Elections Commission said there were isolated incidents of voting irregularities, including one woman caught trying to vote twice, but no sign of widespread graft.

“So far the election process has been smooth and there are marked improvements on the Oct. 10 poll,” NEC said.

Boakai has found it harder to convince voters that he will bring change, given that he worked alongside Johnson Sirleaf for 12 years. Weah, by contrast, has won the hearts of mostly young Liberians through his star performances for Europe’s biggest football teams in the 1990s.

His arrival at a polling station in Paynesville was met with cheers by a crowd of supporters.

People wait to vote during the presidential election at a polling station in Monrovia, Liberia December 26, 2017.

People wait to vote during the presidential election at a polling station in Monrovia, Liberia December 26, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

“My focus now is to win,” he told reporters. “From there, I am going to get on the drawing board with my team and then we’ll put a plan together to move our country forward.”

Some however are wary of Weah’s lack of political experience, education and concrete policy.

“Boakai understands diplomacy,” said McArthur Nuah Kermah, a school registrar in Paynesville. “Weah is not experienced and doesn’t know the workings of government.”

Turnout appeared low on the day after the Christmas holiday, in contrast to the high turnout for the first round, although official figures are yet to be released.

NEC did its best to rally young voters and conjure a sense of occasion in a morning Twitter post.

“First-time voters MUST vote on December 26 Run-Off elections,” its tweet said. “This is the first big process you are a part of … you must complete it in order to be a part of tomorrow’s glorious and democratic Liberia!”

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Heavens)

Fifth person dies in Guinea Ebola flare-up

CONAKRY (Reuters) – A fifth person has died of Ebola in southeast Guinea since March 17, a health official told Reuters on Tuesday, raising concerns that a recent flare-up of the deadly virus could spread.

The latest case was detected in Macenta prefecture, about 200 kilometers from the village of Korokpara where the four other recent Ebola-related deaths occurred, said Fode Sylla Tass, spokesman for National Coordination of the Fight against Ebola in Guinea.

The man, who has not been identified, had recently visited Korokpara and had been in direct contact with the first patients, Tass said. He was buried in the village of Makoidou without any sanitary precautions.

Burials, where bodies of the deceased are often washed, have been a main cause of transmission of Ebola, which has killed at least 11,300 people in West Africa since 2013 in the worst outbreak on record.

Guinea, one of the worst hit countries, was declared Ebola free in December, but the World Health Organization warned about possible flare-ups.

It was not immediately clear how the people from Korokpara had contracted the disease but the area had previously resisted efforts to fight the illness in the initial epidemic.

Guinea’s Ebola coordination unit has traced an estimated 816 people who may have come into contact with the first four recent victims.

Liberia closed its border with Guinea on Tuesday as a precaution against the latest outbreak.

In Makoidou, news of the latest test was met with panic.

“When the villagers realized that the test conducted by our health teams on the man were positive, they all fled into the bush,” Tass said.

(Reporting by Saliou Samb; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Liberia declared Ebola-free, though threat of flare-ups remain

MONROVIA (Reuters) – Liberia was declared free of the Ebola virus by global health experts on Thursday, a milestone that signaled an end to an epidemic in West Africa that has killed more than 11,300 people.

But the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned there could still be flare-ups of the disease in the region, which has suffered the world’s deadliest outbreak over the past two years, as survivors can carry the virus for many months and could pass it on.

Health specialists cautioned against complacency, saying the world was still underprepared for any future outbreaks of the disease.

Liberia was the last affected country to get the all-clear, with no cases of Ebola for 42 days, twice the length of the virus’s “incubation period” – the time elapsed between transmission of the disease and the appearance of symptoms.

“All known chains of transmission have been stopped in West Africa,” the WHO, a U.N. agency, said on Thursday.

The other affected countries, Guinea and Sierra Leone, were declared Ebola-free late last year. There were cases in seven other countries including Nigeria, the United States and Spain, but almost all the deaths were in the West African nations.

“It is the first time since the start of the … epidemic in West Africa two years ago that the three hardest-hit countries had zero cases for at least 42 days,” said WHO’s Liberia representative Alex Gasasira.

The WHO announcement on Thursday is a major step in the fight against a disease that began in the forests of eastern Guinea in December 2013 before spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone. It overwhelmed medical infrastructure in the region which was ill-equipped to deal with the outbreak, and at its height in late 2014 sparked global fears among the general public.

However the agency urged caution – Liberia had previously twice been declared virus-free, in May and September of 2015, but each time a fresh cluster of cases unexpectedly emerged.

Its capital Monrovia was badly hit during the worst of the epidemic. Inadequate care meant patients lay strewn on the streets or pavements waiting hours for tests and treatment; medical holding pens became growth centers for the disease.

With those memories still fresh, and society and the economy still reeling from the outbreak, the reaction to Thursday’s announcement was muted. There was no signs of celebration such as the “Ebola free” T-shirts that people wore after previous WHO announcements.

“After the first declaration, people were dancing in the street,” said Vivian Lymas Tegli, child protection officer for UNICEF in Monrovia. “But I don’t think there will be any celebrations today. People are tired of Ebola. They feel it is here to stay.”


Experts said progress had been made in the region’s response to Ebola, with new cases having dwindled due to public health campaigns, efforts to trace and isolate potential sufferers and the safe treatment and burial of patients and victims.

But it said the countries would still struggle to deal with any future large outbreak of Ebola, which is passed on through blood and bodily fluids and killed around 40 percent of those who contracted the virus.

Hundreds of healthcare workers in both urban and rural communities were among those killed by the disease, a major blow to medical systems in countries which already had among the lowest numbers of doctors per head of population in the world.

“Today’s WHO announcement is welcome news but we must learn from Ebola’s devastating impact and ensure we are better prepared for infectious disease outbreaks,” said Dr Seth Berkley, head of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an organization that aims to increase access to vaccines in poor countries.

“The world is still worryingly underprepared for potential future health threats and a change of mind-set is required to ensure we invest in research and development today to protect ourselves in years to come.”

Experts also warned other tropical diseases posed future threats, including the previously little known mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to head-related birth defects and is spreading in South America.

Hilde de Clerck, a doctor with Medecins Sans Frontieres who has assisted with five Ebola outbreaks including in Congo, Uganda and the latest epidemic in West Africa, said vigilance was crucial to prevent the re-emergence of the disease, for which there is no proven drug treatment, although researchers have developed a vaccine.

“I think we should not forget about the risk of other outbreaks,” she said. “I am most concerned about some of the basics: hygiene, equipment and training.”

While WHO and other health specialists say another outbreak of this magnitude is unlikely, and much has been learned in terms of monitoring patients and responding to outbreaks, problems remain, including with simple hygiene, such as not washing hands.

“I do really believe that there is a much better understanding, an acceptance that this is a real disease, and what the cause is of this disease, and that is much more embedded in society than before,” said Peter Graaff, head of Ebola operations at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.

Mohammed Kamara, who lives in Monrovia, lost two relatives and a friend to Ebola in 2014. “I know exactly what it means to have the disease in the country,” he said.

“We must be grateful to God and then to the government and its partners for the country to be declared free of Ebola. I only hope that it is the last time that we experience Ebola.”

(Additional reporting by Keiran Guilbert, Stephanie Nebehay, Tom Miles, Emma Farge, Matt Mpoke Bigg, Kate Kelland and Ben Hirschler; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Pravin Char)

Guinea, Origin of West Africa Ebola Outbreak, Now Free of Virus

Health officials say that Guinea is officially free of Ebola, a milestone achievement for the nation that was the original source of a deadly outbreak of the disease about two years ago.

The World Health Organization (WHO), an arm of the United Nations, made the announcement on Tuesday, saying it had been 42 days since test results on the West African nation’s final confirmed Ebola patient came back negative. The WHO said the outbreak that ravaged Guinea and the neighboring nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia, killing thousands of people and sickening scores more, originally began in Gueckedou, Guinea, late in 2013 before spreading.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rare-but-often-fatal disease killed 2,536 people in Guinea, the vast majority of people who fell ill with it. The virus also killed 3,955 in Sierra Leone and more than 4,800 in Liberia. In isolated instances, Ebola arrived in seven other nations and killed 15 more people, including one in the United States.

Though the outbreak received widespread coverage from around the globe, 11,300 of the 11,315 Ebola deaths occurred in the three West African nations most severely impacted by the virus. Likewise, CDC data show 28,601 of the 28,637 suspected ebola cases occurred in those nations.

The WHO deemed Sierra Leone free of the disease in November, according to a statement at the time. The WHO had also declared Liberia free of the disease in September, according to the CDC, though three additional cases of the Ebola virus have surfaced in the past few weeks.

The WHO says that Ebola can linger in the bodies of some male survivors for up to one year, making monitoring important. The organization said officials would be on high alert for the next 90 days to ensure any potential new infections are rapidly discovered to prevent transmission.

Head of CDC Heads to Sierra Leone

Concerns about the new Ebola scare in Sierra Leone has the head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) flying to that nation.

The report of the trip comes on the heels of Sierra Leone officials admitting they have two more new cases of the virus connected to the first victim who died last week.

“We now know where the virus is and we are tracking its movement, by surrounding, containing and eradicating its last remaining chain of transmission,” ational Ebola Response Centre’s OB Sisay said.

CDC Head Dr. Tom Frieden reportedly will help assess the situation and provide advice on steps needed to control the new outbreak.

Officials say the problem with controlling the virus early is that the initial symptom of fever is similar to that of other diseases such as malaria and typhoid.  That would lead some folks who have Ebola to not seek treatment or isolate themselves because they don’t know they have the deadly virus.

The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 11,200 people worldwide although the overwhelming number of deaths were in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Liberia Confirms New Ebola Death

Liberian officials confirmed today a woman has died in Monrovia from the Ebola virus.

The death makes the sixth confirmed case of the virus since it re-emerged last month following a seven week period without any new cases.

“There is one new case. This time, the response area is Montserrado county. The person died in Monrovia,” Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francis Ketteh told Reuters.

A report on the case stated the woman died just hours after being admitted to the hospital and showed a failure in the government’s process of surveillance of those who had contacts with other Ebola patients is not effective.

Doctors are speculating the virus was lying dormant during the seven week period with no infections and that it passed from a disease survivor to another person through sexual contact.

Ebola has killed over 11,200 people since the beginning of the outbreak in December 2013.  Liberia had been declared “Ebola free” by the World Health Organization on May 9th.

Ebola Re-Emerges in Liberia

Liberian officials confirmed a third case of Ebola on Thursday, two months after the country had declared itself Ebola free.

A case management leader for the country’s Ebola Task Force says that the three villagers with the disease “have a history of having had dog meat together.”  Dog meat is common in the diet of Liberians.

The first confirmed case, a 17-year-old boy, died Sunday about 30 miles from the capital city of Monrovia.  The other two cases are in the same village as the dead teen.

“The two (latest) live cases are 24 years old and 27 years old. They are stable,” Deputy Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah said on Thursday.

Scientists say that there is no proof yet that dogs can carry the Ebola virus.  Humans have been infected in past outbreaks by eating contaminated monkey meat.

“There is no need to panic. Our health team is on top of it. It will be contained,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Reuters.

At least 175 people are being monitored because of contact with the three confirmed cases.

Liberia Declared Ebola-Free

The World Health Organization has declared Liberia to finally be free of Ebola.

The death toll from the virus was listed as 4,700 by WHO officials.

“The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over,” WHO representative Dr. Alex Gasasira said at a press conference in the capital city of Monrovia on Saturday, reading his group’s statement.

The announcement comes 42 days after the last reported case of the virus.  The standard for declaring a nation free of a virus is twice the cycle of infection which is 21 days for Ebola.

“Interruption of transmission is a monumental achievement for a country that reported the highest number of deaths in the largest, longest, and most complex outbreak since Ebola first emerged in 1976,” WHO said in the statement.

The peak of the virus was August and September 2014 where 300 to 400 cases were being confirmed each week.

“During those 2 months, the capital city Monrovia was the setting for some of the most tragic scenes from West Africa’s outbreak: gates locked at overflowing treatment centers, patients dying on the hospital grounds, and bodies that were sometimes not collected for days,” WHO said. “Flights were cancelled. Fuel and food ran low. Schools, businesses, borders, markets, and most health facilities were closed. Fear and uncertainty about the future, for families, communities, and the country and its economy, dominated the national mood.”

Officials with the WHO have previously admitted the death toll could be much higher than the official toll because of families that would bury their dead and not report relatives who succumbed to the virus.

Troops To Return From Ebola Areas

President Obama announced the progress against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa allows U.S. troops to come home.

“We have risen to the challenge,” he said at the White House. “Our focus now is getting to zero.”

Around 1,500 troops have already returned and 2,700 more will return by April 30th.  Only 100 military officials will stay in Liberia after that date to provide advice on containment.

The President said the way Ebola has been brought under control shows that calls for travel restrictions and harsh measures were not necessary.

“People were understandably afraid,” Obama said. “Some stoked those fears.”

The President praised charitable groups that took the initiative to go and help the victims of the outbreak.

Ebola Surges Again In Liberia

Health officials fighting the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia have confirmed that a new wave of the virus has broken out near the Sierra Leone border.

Authorities say that dozens of new cases have been rushing into health centers and marks a huge setback to the nation, which had thought they were bringing the viral outbreak under control.

Assistant Health minister Tolbert Nyenswah said that the new cases could be connected to people traveling across the Sierra Leone border and returning home.  Sierra Leone has passed Liberia for the total number of Ebola cases.

Liberia has reported close to 3,400 deaths from Ebola and over 8,000 cases.  The World Health Organization says that Sierra Leone has now passed Liberia with 9,000 cases of the deadly virus.

Liberian officials did not say if they would take steps to block border crossings.