Ebola: US declared free of deadly virus following New York doctor’s recovery – as childbirth mortality rate rockets in west Africa

One in seven pregnant women could die in childbirth if west Africa's health crisis is not addressed, charities warn

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The Independent US

The US has been declared free of Ebola after a New York doctor was scheduled for release from hospital following his recovery, health officials have said.

But while America hailed its victory over the disease and called Dr Craig Spencer a “real hero”, charities warned that a staggering one in seven pregnant women will die in childbirth if Ebola continues to spread in west Africa.

Highlighting the difference in fortunes between those in America’s biggest city and those at the heart of the disease outbreak, New York mayor Bill de Blasio said Dr Spencer had “come back really strong” after the 33-year-old was treated in a specially-designed isolation unit at Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital, a designated Ebola treatment centre.

Meanwhile, a group of charities said that of the 800,000 women expected to give birth in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia in the next 12 months, up to 120,000 could die because they are denied access to basic emergency care.

Korto Williams, head of ActionAid in Liberia, said there was now such a stigma surrounding any kind of medical emergency that many women were being left to give birth alone for fear that they might have Ebola.

Her charity is among 13 represented by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) in the UK, which warned that the maternal mortality rate could increase by 20 times to 15 per cent if conditions do not improve in west Africa.

Craig Spencer was admitted to New York's Bellevue Hospital on 23 October

Ms Williams said the “horrendous prediction” of one in seven women dying in childbirth was a “worst case scenario” but added: “We have to do more to ... stop this coming true. We have to ensure that pregnant women get the care they urgently need or we will see the rate of maternal deaths skyrocket.”

The world's worst Ebola epidemic, which emerged in Guinea in March, has infected more than 13,000 people and killed almost 5,000 in the three worst-hit countries, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures. But there is a danger that attention on the disease will wane in the US, now that it does not have to contend with any cases of its own.

New Yorkers were shocked when, towards the end of October, it was revealed that Spencer travelled on the subway, ate out at a busy meatball restaurant and visited a bowling alley in the days before he tested positive for Ebola.

ebola-bowling.jpgThough the WHO only officially declares countries free of Ebola after 42 days – twice the maximum incubation period for the disease – there are now no active cases in the US. Dr Spencer’s fiancee and two friends were initially quarantined but were released and are being monitored along with hundreds of others.

Dr Spencer is expected to issue a statement but not take questions when he's released from the hospital later today. Mayor De Blasio said he had suffered a lot since his diagnosis on 23 October but that he was “a real hero”. He said: “I’m sure he's a little weakened from the experience,” adding that he is now “very, very healthy”.