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Nigeria declared Ebola-free in 'spectacular success'

By Ola AWONIYI with Bryan MCMANUS in Luxembourg

Abuja (AFP) - Nigeria was declared Ebola-free on Monday in a "spectacular success" in the battle to contain the spread of a virus which is devastating Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia where more than 4,500 people have died.

The World Health Organization said Nigeria -- Africa's most populous country where eight deaths had sparked fears of a rapid spread through its teeming cities -- had shown the world "that Ebola can be contained".

Another west African nation, Senegal, was declared free of the virus on Friday.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg said the bloc must step up efforts to contain Ebola and prevent it becoming a global threat.

Amid concerns that the global response has been too slow, the 28 EU nations agreed to do more to get foreign medical staff onto the Ebola frontline.

They also agreed to appoint an Ebola coordinator.

"The person will be named in the coming days," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.

In the United States, the absence of any new cases in the last five days prompted cautious optimism from health authorities that the virus has been contained there after a flawed initial response.

In another encouraging piece of news, test results showed a Spanish nurse who was the first person to contract the virus outside Africa appears to now be clear of the disease after treatment.

But while the rest of the world appeared to be winning the fight to keep Ebola at bay, the three west African countries which account for the vast majority of the 4,500 deaths -- Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea -- were counting a rising human and economic cost.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf warned Sunday that a generation of Africans was at risk of "being lost to economic catastrophe" because of the crisis.

The "time for talking or theorising is over," she said in an open letter published by the BBC.

"This fight requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help -- whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise."

- EU calls for more funds -

The WHO declared Nigeria free of Ebola after 42 days elapsed without any new cases among its 170 million citizens.

"The virus is gone for now. The outbreak in Nigeria has been defeated," the WHO's representative in Nigeria, Rui Gama Vaz, said.

"This is a spectacular success story that shows to the world that Ebola can be contained."

In Luxembourg, the EU foreign ministers agreed the European Commission should "guarantee appropriate care for international health responders".

They said that should include the option of medical evacuation to ensure staff working in the worst-hit countries receive the best care themselves.

That has been a key stumbling block in trying to boost the number of foreign medical workers prepared to work in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The ministers also said there was a need to set up a pool of volunteer health experts from EU states "for quick and targeted deployment in health crises".

They also called on the international community to meet the $1.0 billion (782 million euros) sought by the UN, saying EU countries had put up around 500 million euros so far.

The success of Senegal and Nigeria in containing the virus is being studied by public health specialists looking to contain the spread of the disease around the world.

Some 10,000 people have been infected with the haemorrhagic fever for which there is no vaccine or cure.

A Norwegian woman who contracted the Ebola virus while working for Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone has been cured after treatment in an isolation unit in Oslo, the organisation said Monday.

"We are very happy to learn that our colleague has been cured," said Jonas Haagensen, a spokesman for the Norwegian branch of the organisation, also known by its French name Medecins sans Frontieres.

In Havana, Cuban President Raul Castro urged fellow Latin American leftist leaders to work together to fight Ebola, saying the disease "threatens us all" as he opened a summit on Monday.

Cuba has sought to place itself at the forefront of the international response to the Ebola epidemic, sending 165 doctors and nurses to west Africa to combat the disease, with another 300 on the way