GENEVA — The World Health Organization declared the West African nation of Senegal to be free of Ebola on Friday, a rare success in dealing with a deadly virus that has rampaged uncontrolled in neighboring countries and prompted alarm around the world.
Senegal’s achievement came as the health organization was reported to have internally acknowledged its own stark failure to arrest the disease months ago. The internal document reportedly went far beyond the self-criticism that organization officials have expressed publicly about their response.
The W.H.O. announcement on Senegal officially concluded a monitoring period of 42 days, twice the maximum incubation period for the virus, in which no new infections were found. The last recorded case in the country was a young man who was entering by road from Guinea; he recovered and returned to Guinea last week, the organization announced.
In what would be another conspicuous success, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, appeared close on Friday to declaring itself free of Ebola as well. The country would reach the 42-day milestone on Monday, after an outbreak that infected 20 people and resulted in eight deaths.
Senegal’s proximity to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three countries at the heart of the epidemic, “makes the country still vulnerable to additional imported cases,” the organization said.
More than 4,500 people have died from Ebola and more than 9,200 have been infected in the current outbreak, according to the latest W.H.O. tally posted Friday on its website. The number of cases is still doubling every month.
Still, Senegal’s success in isolating the infection sets an example of good practice at a moment when the organization is trying to strengthen the readiness of 15 other countries in Africa to deal with arriving travelers who are infected with the disease.
The W.H.O., a specialized United Nations agency with its headquarters in Geneva, is responsible for coordinating international responses to contagious diseases.
Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the agency, and her top aides have said that all agencies and governments dealing with the Ebola outbreak — including her own — underestimated its severity. But a draft internal document, reported Friday by The Associated Press, uses significantly stronger language in faulting the organization’s performance, citing incompetent staff and scant information.
“Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall,” the news agency quoted the document as saying.
Tarik Jasarevic, a W.H.O. spokesman in Geneva, declined to comment on the agency’s report and said he had not seen the document. “We will have a time to review how the response has been handled and we will certainly do that but for the time being we want to focus on helping countries make their response as efficient as possible,” he said.
In Sierra Leone, where Ebola’s ripple effects have led to severe food shortages and hunger, the World Food Program and its partners began what they called the biggest single food distribution operation to date.
Gon Myers, the program’s director in Sierra Leone, said in a statement that more than 800 tons of food had been distributed to 265,000 people on the outskirts of Freetown, the capital, enough to last them for a month. He said the distribution was meant “to prevent this health crisis from becoming a food and nutrition crisis.”
At the United Nations, Sarah Crowe, the crisis communications chief for Unicef, told reporters after a five-week visit to Liberia that “Ebola has hijacked every aspect of life” and left 3,700 orphans in the affected countries.
In another ripple effect, the United Nations Population Fund said that health facilities overstretched by Ebola threatened the needs of pregnant women, who are afraid to visit clinics or are turned away.
More than 800,000 women in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are likely to give birth in the next 12 months, the agency said.
“The reality is that pregnant women are facing a double threat — dying from Ebola and from pregnancy or childbirth, due to the devastating impact of Ebola on health workers and health systems,” said the agency’s executive director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.