GENEVA (AFP) - Ebola-ravaged Liberia has for the first time since last May gone a full week without reporting any new confirmed cases of the devastating virus, according to World Health Organization data.
Liberia "reported no new confirmed cases" during the week to March 1, the UN health agency said in a report late Wednesday.
Since the outbreak began in December 2013, 23,969 people in nine countries have been infected with the virus, and 9,807 of them have died, according to the latest figures.
Of those, 9,249 cases including 4,117 deaths, were in Liberia, which six months ago was reporting more than 300 new cases each week.
At the height of the epidemic in a country whose health infrastructure had been ravaged by two back-to-back civil wars, overflowing health clinics had to turn away people, often to die on the streets.
But a huge national and international response helped stem the spread.
Of 45 samples tested nationwide last week, none were positive, WHO said, adding that it was first time there had been no new confirmed cases since May 26, 2014.
The outlook was less positive in the other countries affected by the outbreak, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which jointly reported 132 new confirmed cases last week.
Sierra Leone, which counts the most cases in total at 11,466, including 3,546 deaths, registered 81 new confirmed cases last week, up from 65 the week before.
Transmission in the country "remains widespread", WHO warned, pointing out that new cases had emerged in eight different districts across the country, with rising numbers in Freetown, the Western Rural district and in the northern district of Bombali.
The outbreak in Bombali was reportedly linked to a cluster of cases in the Aberdeen fishing community in Freetown, and WHO said efforts were underway to track over 2,000 contacts associated with that cluster.
The 51 new confirmed cases registered in Guinea last week also marked a significant increase on the 35 new cases reported during the previous seven-day period.
The country, which in total counts Ebola 3,219 cases and 2,129 deaths, also saw a marked hike in new cases in the capital Conakry and in nearby Forecariah, WHO said.
Massive efforts and funds have been poured into the fight to rid the three west African countries of the Ebola scourge, and a main focus has been to ensure that all those infected are isolated and cared for in treatment centres.
Ensuring safe burials of the highly contagious bodies has also been a priority.
But both Sierra Leone and Guinea continued to see high numbers of people dying of Ebola in their communities, "suggesting that the need for early isolation and treatment is not yet understood, accepted or acted upon," WHO warned.
More than half of the 32 confirmed Ebola deaths in Guinea last week happened in the community, rather than treatment units, while 16 percent did in Sierra Leone.
Unsafe burials also continue to be a problem in the two countries, with 16 registered last week alone.