The World Health Organization say for the first time in 7 months, the number of new Ebola cases in West Africa has fallen below 100, and the focus of efforts against the disease is shifting from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic.

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Efforts in the Ebola fight are now shifting toward ending the epidemic, and include lab and contact tracing.

To reach this goal as quickly as possible, resources have shifted from rapidly building infrastructure to finding and managing new cases, ensuring safe burials and engaging communities, says the latest World Health Organization (WHO) situation report on Ebola.

Different agencies are taking the lead in each new area of focus.

WHO are leading case management, case finding, lab and contact tracing, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are leading action on safe and dignified burials, and UNICEF are leading action on community engagement and social mobilization.

"For the first time since the week ending June 29th, 2014, there have been fewer than 100 new confirmed cases reported in a week in the three most affected countries," declares the WHO report.

There was a total of 99 confirmed cases in the week ending January 25th, 2015: 30 in Guinea, four in Liberia, and 65 in Sierra Leone.

Altogether, these three countries have reported 22,057 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease and 8,795 deaths. Among these numbers are 816 confirmed health worker infections, including 488 reported deaths.

Six other countries - Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, the UK and the US - have also reported a case or cases that spread from one of the three most affected countries.

The last of these was in the UK, where a health worker who returned from volunteering in Sierra Leone was discharged from hospital on January 24th, 2015 after testing negative twice for Ebola virus disease.

Preparedness to rapidly detect and respond to Ebola exposure

WHO emphasize that unaffected countries are still at risk of importing a case of Ebola for as long as cases are reported in any country.

For this reason, preparedness effort aims to ensure all countries are ready to detect, investigate and report potential Ebola cases and mount effective responses. This support is provided through visits from WHO preparedness support teams, provision of direct technical assistance and guidance and tools.

To this end, the United Nations (UN) agency has prepared a set of tools to support countries improve and accelerate their readiness to detect and respond to Ebola. One example is the WHO Ebola preparedness checklist.

The WHO checklist identifies 11 key elements and tasks for a country to prepare its health system to detect and respond to Ebola.

There is further information, including guidelines and training materials, on the WHO Ebola preparedness website.

The countries to receive the focus of preparedness support are three highest priority countries: Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Senegal; followed by high priority countries: Burkina Faso, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritania, Nigeria, South Sudan, Niger and Togo.

UN praise Africa's response and urge continued push to end the epidemic

At a recent UN African Union Stakeholder Meeting on Ebola, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, UN special representative and head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), thanked government and civil partners for their support thus far in the fight against Ebola and urged global efforts to continue. He explained that:

"The situation is still perilous. There is still Ebola in more than 25 of the 66 districts, counties and prefectures in the region. I ask you all to maintain support until the task is completed."

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is unprecedented in world history, and so too is the response. Over 70 countries, hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of people have been directly involved in the fight to stop Ebola.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed highlighted the strong part played by the African Union, which offered to mobilize 1,000 health workers from all over Africa to support the affected countries. He says the response shows Africa has "valuable assets" to support outbreaks, and:

"The epidemic has turned, and we are now beginning to see an overall decline in the number of new cases."

However, he adds that "stopping this outbreak still requires significant additional efforts."

The UN recently launched a new appeal for $1 billion to help fund the Ebola response up to June 2015, which needs resources to support cross-border strategies and integrated response and recovery efforts.

The meeting also discussed proposals to recover the shattered economies and societies of the countries affected. These ideas are expected to lead the way at the European Union High Level Conference on Ebola on March 3rd, 2015.

Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently learned about a study where after analyzing landscape features of precise geo-locations of Ebola spillover from animal reservoirs into humans, researchers concluded human population density and vegetation cover may be important factors.