(By Associated Press)
The U.N. chief on Saturday appointed a new head of the emergency mission responding to West Africa's Ebola crisis amid hopes that the world's deadliest outbreak of the virus will soon come to an end.
A statement from Ban Ki-moon's office said Peter Jan Graaff of the Netherlands will work closely with David Nabarro, the U.N.'s special Ebola envoy, in addressing an epidemic that has claimed more than 10,000 lives in the three hardest-hit countries: Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The Ghana-based U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, was established last September, near the height of the outbreak as an extraordinary response to a public health crisis.
Outgoing head Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed was appointed as special envoy to Yemen on Saturday. Ban thanked Ahmed "for his exceptional work and leadership of UNMEER, and for his commitment to ensuring the affected countries are on the road to recovery from the unprecedented Ebola outbreak," according to the statement.
Graaff had been serving since October as the U.N.'s Ebola crisis manager in Liberia, which has recorded more Ebola deaths than any other country.
Liberia's last known Ebola patient died on March 27. A country must go 42 days, or twice the maximum incubation period of 21 days, to be declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization. If no more cases are recorded, Liberia will hit that milestone on May 9.
In its latest situation report, WHO said Guinea and Sierra Leone combined had 33 new cases in the previous week. It said initiatives including community engagement and case identification would need to be improved to eradicate the disease.