zika Margaret Chan WHO.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MARTIAL TREZZINI

Ebola is under control in West Africa and no longer constitutes a global health emergency, but African countries must remain on alert to counter new outbreaks, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday in Geneva.

"The original Ebola outbreak has come to an end," said Robert Steffen, vice chairman of WHO's expert advisory panel on Ebola.

All travel and trade restrictions related to the outbreak in West Africa should be lifted, WHO said.

But he added that "complacency at this stage would be completely wrong."

WHO Director General Margaret Chan pointed to the risk of sexual transmission.

"Semen can be positive for more than a year," she said, referring to the 1 to 2 per cent of survivors whose semen contains Ebola virus or virus particles for that long.

The epidemic started in Guinea in late 2013 and spread mainly to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The highly infectious haemorrhagic Ebola fever has killed more than 11,300 people in these three countries.

The WHO advisers found "that the risk of international spread is now low, and that countries currently have the capacity to respond rapidly to new virus emergences," WHO said.

New, small clusters of infections continue to emerge, but health authorities have been able to stop them quickly, the WHO advisers noted.

Last month health officials in Guinea said there was a small number of new infections, after WHO had declared Guinea free of Ebola in December.

Sierra Leone recorded two cases in January.

Even though the global alert has been lifted, WHO said affected countries must make sure that male survivors can have their semen tested.

The UN agency also said that vaccination campaigns should be expanded in West Africa.

WHO had imposed its highest alert level on Ebola only in August 2014, as the virus already ravaged West Africa.

Medical aid groups criticized that WHO had responded too late.

In the current Zika virus outbreak and the parallel rise of neurological disorders in Latin America, WHO reacted much more quickly and declared a global health emergency in early February.

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