November 19, 2014 / 4:20 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-Liberia has upper hand over Ebola but support must continue-president

* Says concerned of “complacency” among donors

* Liberia has ambitious target of no new cases by Dec. 25

* Rate of transmission now fastest in Sierra Leone (Adds context, World Bank statement)

By Emma Farge

DAKAR, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said on Wednesday that her government has the upper hand in the fight against Ebola, but warned against complacency or any reduction in international support.

Liberia’s death toll from the worst Ebola outbreak on record is higher than any other country at more than 2,800. But the World Health Organization said last week the number of new cases there is slowing. The United States has also trimmed its military force being sent there.

Adding to signs of improvement, Liberia said it is not extending its state of emergency imposed to fight the disease and set a national target of no new Ebola cases by Christmas.

“The sustaining of anti-Ebola measures over the last two months has meant that in Liberia we now have the upper hand,” Sirleaf said in a statement.

“But our government remains concerned that progress in this battle will lead to complacency on the part of the international community,” she added. “We must not interpret gains as an outright victory - nothing could be more dangerous.”

More than 5,000 people have died from the haemorrhagic fever in the three hardest hit countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, since it was first reported in Guinea in March.

Despite positive news out of Liberia, U.N. officials say the virus is still spreading rapidly in Sierra Leone, where 421 infections were reported in the week to Nov. 9. Mali is also facing a new wave of cases imported from Guinea.

Sirleaf said her government planned a series of discussions with foreign governments and aid agencies “to refocus their efforts on intensifying the anti-Ebola campaign with us” and referred to “hotspots” of the disease in rural areas.

Communications Minister Lewis Brown said her statement followed talk of a “possible diversion of resources” from Liberia, without giving any further details.

The U.S. military has led the international Ebola response in Liberia while the British military has deployed hundreds of soldiers to tackle the crisis in Sierra Leone.

The World Bank Group said on Wednesday that nearly half of Liberia’s workforce had stopped work by November. It urged more relief for those suffering the indirect consequences of the virus, such as high food prices.

Editing by David Lewis and Angus MacSwan

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