04/10/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/11/2015 07:59 EDT

Canada's top doc heads to Sierra Leone, Guinea to tour Ebola response efforts

TORONTO - Canada's chief public health officer is heading to West Africa to tour Ebola response efforts in Sierra Leone and Guinea.

This is the first trip to the Ebola zone for Dr. Gregory Taylor.

He says Canada needs information to assess what role it can play in the effort to stop the outbreak and to rebuild the battered health-care systems of the three affected countries.

Taylor is heading out on Saturday and is set to return April 20.

Taylor says about 70 Canadians are currently working on the Ebola response in West Africa, deployed through a range of agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Taylor says two more will join their numbers next week; Canada is sending a second mobile lab team to West Africa, to Guinea's capital, Conakry.

That lab crew will work with a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Canada has had mobile lab teams in the region since late last June. Currently there is only a single team deployed at Magburaka, Sierra Leone.

Taylor plans to travel to tour that operation, which is about a four or five hours drive from the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown. He also hopes to meet with government officials in the two countries.

Canada, a major contributor to the Ebola response effort, will continue to be involved, Taylor says.

"Things are changing. And as the response goes from slowing the outbreak down to getting to zero, it's shifting and it's changing. And it's a real opportunity for us to see on the ground, 'so what do we need to do? ... How can we best help as this shifts?'"

He also plans to meet with Dr. Eilish Cleary, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, who is currently heading Ebola surveillance operations for Sierra Leone.

The World Health Organization said Friday that Ebola remains a global health emergency, but the sharp decline in cases appears to be true progress. It reported this week that there were only 30 cases in the week ending April 5, with 21 reported by Guinea and nine by Sierra Leone.

That weekly figure is the lowest recorded since last May.

Transmission may have stopped in Liberia. The country has reported only one case in the past 21 days and that patient died on March 27.

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