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Liberia President Sets Dec. 25 Goal For No New Ebola Cases

MELISSA BLOCK: Liberia's president hopes December 25 becomes a milestone in the fight against Ebola. Her goal is to have zero new cases of the disease by then. This target comes as Ebola numbers have dropped in the West African nation. Only three months ago, there were riots over the virus in the capital, and beds for Ebola patients were hard to find. Now treatment units, some built by the U.S. military, are nearly empty. From Liberia, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has more.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been upbeat in her recent declarations about Ebola. At a news conference with visiting senior U.S. officials, she said...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF: We still have to continue to fight this virus because it's not over yet.

QUIST-ARCTON: The president says Christnas is her target for no new cases of Ebola in Liberia. At its height, the number of cases was doubling every two or three weeks. But through containment, treatment and, especially, behavior change, the World Health Organization says the number of new Ebola cases has been falling, particularly in the capital, Monrovia. However, new outbreaks are being reported in rural areas. The president spoke yesterday about what comes next.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: We have to be very resilient and to improve our health facilities and our economic recovery.

QUIST-ARCTON: U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Africa Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield was asked whether the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak was too slow. Only 3 of its 15 planned Ebola treatment units have been completed, but beds are largely empty.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It's never too late. It is better to not need the beds than to not have enough beds and ETUs for the number of cases. There is a need for the health infrastructure in Liberia as well as the other Ebola-affected countries to be rebuilt and to be built better.

QUIST-ARCTON: The drop in the number of new Ebola cases also might mean children return to school sooner than anticipated, says Liberia's Deputy Information Minister Isaac Jackson, depending, he says, on whether Liberia hits the Christmas target of no new cases.

DEPUTY INFORMATION MINISTER ISAAC JACKSON: If we can score good marks, you know, relative to our campaign of no new cases by December 25, hopefully we can resume classes in January.

QUIST-ARCTON: The minister says education administrators have been instructed to begin preparing for the resumption of school in Liberia by refurbishing classrooms and fixing broken benches. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Monrovia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.