'Dramatic improvement' in Ebola outlook in Liberia: U.S. general

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[November 25, 2014]  By Emma Farge

DAKAR (Reuters) - A U.S. general in the force helping Liberia fight the Ebola epidemic reported on Monday a dramatic improvement in the situation there and confirmed the cancellation of two planned treatment facilities.

Brigadier General Frank Tate, deputy commanding general of U.S. Operation United Assistance, said the drop in the number of cases in the country was all the more encouraging given recent improvements in reporting capacity.

He said new daily cases have fallen to around 20 from close to 80 when the operation was announced in September. Ebola is still spreading in other parts of West Africa.

"It's a dramatic improvement," he told Reuters on the airstrip of a temporary U.S. logistics base in Dakar as dozens of U.S. soldiers boarded a Monrovia-bound Hercules aircraft.

"It was decided between USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and the Liberian government that two of the 17 Ebola Treatment Units was no longer necessary. They were canceled," he said.

Elsewhere in West Africa, the disease is still spreading, especially in neighboring Sierra Leone which recorded 533 new cases in the week to Nov. 16. At least six people have died from Ebola in Mali, whose government is now monitoring hundreds of contacts linked to Guinean imam whose symptoms went undetected.

Tate's comments echoed other positive signs from Liberia, once the epicenter of the worst known Ebola outbreak in history that has killed more than 5,459 people. Already, the United States has decided to trim the number of troops in Liberia from 4,000 to a maximum of 3,000 in December.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf decided this month not to renew a state of emergency there and set a national target of no new cases by December 25.

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But Tate warned that authorities need to remain vigilant.

"We can by no means declare victory. We have to continue pressure on this disease in Liberia as well as in Guinea and Sierra Leone and work on border security," he said.

Tate said the United States had no current plans to shift resources to other Ebola-hit countries. "If it became necessary and those orders came to us, we maintain the capability," he said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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