MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberia's president said Thursday she is lifting a state of emergency imposed to control an Ebola outbreak that has ravaged the country, as Mali reported a fourth person now believed to have died of Ebola in its capital.
Also Thursday, Doctors Without Borders announced that accelerated clinical trials will be launched in West Africa to speed the search for a treatment for the virus that has killed more than 5,000 people.
In a nationwide address, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said enough progress has been made to lift emergency measures but added that the move does not mean the outbreak is over. There have been fewer Ebola cases in Monrovia, the capital, though fresh hotspots have emerged. One of those is near the border with Sierra Leone, which along with Guinea has also been hit hard by the disease.
Liberia's emergency measures closed schools, banned large public gatherings, shut some markets and allowed the government to restrict people's movements. Schools remain closed, but officials are discussing how and when to reopen them.
Meanwhile, a hospital spokesman in Bamako, Mali's capital, confirmed Thursday that a girl has become the fourth suspected Ebola victim there.
For months, Mali had been spared from the Ebola crisis despite sharing a border with Guinea, where the epidemic first began. Earlier this week, a nurse was confirmed to have died from Ebola, and a former patient who was an imam and that man's friend are now also considered probable Ebola deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
Anthony Banbury, the head of the U.N. mission fighting Ebola in West Africa, told the U.N. General Assembly that one of the men who died had visited three medical clinics. The body of man, who Banbury called a local leader, was then brought back to his village "where traditional burial rites were performed, potentially exposing many more people."
Adama Traore, spokesman at Gabriel Toure Hospital, said Thursday that a young girl tested positive before dying from Ebola this week. It was not immediately clear if, or how, she may have come into contact with the other victims.
On Thursday, authorities were trying to track down everyone who may have been exposed to this week's victims. At least 186 contacts already have been registered in Bamako, according to an internal WHO document obtained by The Associated Press.
Teams are headed to the hometown of the dead imam in search of other possible cases.
There is no known cure for Ebola, and early intervention with supportive care to hydrate patients is among the limited options available.
Doctors Without Borders said Thursday it will host clinical trials starting next month in three Ebola treatment centers experimenting with drugs for off-label uses, shortening the usual lengthy process used to find treatments through study with animals and healthy people.
Dr. Annick Antierens, who is coordinating the investigational partnerships for Doctors Without Borders, said two pharmaceutical drugs were chosen for the experiments — antivirals from Japan and the United States — along with the use of a "convalescent plasma," which is blood taken from people who have survived Ebola and probably have useful anti-bodies.
Separate trials will be led by three different research partners and involve the WHO and health officials in affected countries.
"If we're going to find a treatment, we have to do it now — which is why we have to accelerate these trials," said Peter Horby, the chief investigator for the trial led by Oxford University.
Oxford's trial will test the U.S. antiviral drug Brincidofovir in Liberia.
France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research will conduct a trial of the Japanese antiviral drug Favipiravir in Gueckedou, Guinea, and the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine will test convalescent whole blood and plasma therapy in Conakry, Guinea.
Results from some of the trials are expected by February or March.
Human testing of a handful of experimental safety tests with drugs and vaccines for Ebola has begun on several continents.
Dr. David Nabarro, the U.N. Ebola chief, said the situation is promising with regard to anti-Ebola vaccines. If trials prove successful, he said, "I am told there will be doses of vaccines available next year."
The current outbreak kills between 50 and 80 percent of those infected in West Africa, according to Doctors Without Borders.
Also Thursday, the European Union's Ebola coordinator expressed concern that the number of cases is on the rise again in parts of Sierra Leone. Christos Stylianides pledged that the EU would do more.
Ahmed reported from Bamako, Mali. Associated Press writers John Heilprin in Geneva, Clarence Roy-Macaulay in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.