An internationally led effort to provide aid to the countries most afflicted by the Ebola outbreak has greatly paid off dividends, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors calculated the influence that the introduction of more than 2,000 treatment beds to Ebola treatment units and holding centers in Sierra Leone from September 2014 to February 2015 had on Ebola transmission rates, after controlling for other factors like safer burial practices and other types of behavior change. They found these beds may have prevented upward of 56,000 cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD), which coupled with the nearly 70 percent mortality rate of Ebola in Sierra Leone, led to around 40,000 less deaths.

"Our findings show the unprecedented local and international response led to a substantial decline in Ebola transmission,” said lead author Dr. Adam Kucharski, lecturer in infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in a statement. “Given the rapid growth of the outbreak in Sierra Leone, if those beds hadn't been in place to isolate the ill and avert further infections, the epidemic could have been much worse."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Sierra Leone has been home to 13,945 confirmed cases of Ebola since the current outbreak was first identified in March 2014. The country’s toll amounts to nearly half of the 28,457 reported cases seen worldwide, though it is believed that these numbers underestimate the true count.

Though these efforts were successful at helping quell the disastrous viral outbreak, Kucharski and his colleagues noted that they would have been even more so had they arrived earlier.

"There has been much criticism of the international community's slow response to the Ebola outbreak. Our analysis suggests putting treatment beds in place just one month earlier could have further reduced the size of the outbreak and potentially saved thousands of more lives," said co-author Professor John Edmunds, also of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. "The way we prepare for, and respond to, future outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases needs to be strengthened."

Elsewhere, in Liberia, another country originally hit hard by the disease, there has been criticism that a large portion of these intervention efforts arrived right as the outbreak petered out, leading to built Ebola treatment units that were left practically unused.

On Oct. 7, the WHO reported that no confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) were detected in the preceding week leading up to Oct. 4, the first time since the outbreak began that such a thing has happened.

Though, it will still take some time to officially declare the outbreak over, it seems the period for introspection on how the world dealt with Ebola is soon approaching.

Source: Kucharski A, Camacho A, Flasche S, et al. Measuring the impact of Ebola control measures in Sierra Leone. PNAS. 2015.