Guinea had every reason to celebrate Tuesday. The country where the West African Ebola epidemic began had been declared free of virus transmission. That in effect meant that the three countries hardest hit by the disease — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — had broken the chain of infections that took 11,300 lives, jumped borders and spread panic around the world.
The announcement did not mean that the virus had fully surrendered, and indeed Liberia has twice declared the chain broken only to see the virus mysteriously reappear, and must wait until mid-January for an all-clear. Moreover, there is considerable work still to be done to ensure that the global health apparatus — in particular the World Health Organization — will be far better prepared to attack the next epidemic more quickly and effectively.
For the moment, however, largely ending the transmission of a disease for which there was no vaccine and no effective treatment when the epidemic was detected in March 2014 was a major triumph for the emergency workers and medical teams, many from international organizations like Doctors Without Borders, who risked their lives to battle and finally defeat the Ebola virus. It also provided a moment to recall the suffering of those who lost their lives to the terrible infection and of the millions of their relatives, neighbors and countrymen who endured fear, deprivation and grief as the virus spread through their cities and towns.