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SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church is making plans to send missionaries back to Liberia this summer as the World Health Organization prepares to declare the nation free from Ebola.
“New mission presidents have been called and will begin on or about July 1 to supervise the process to reestablish full-time missionary work in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” said Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The deadliest outbreak of Ebola in recorded history prompted the church to remove all 274 of its missionaries from Liberia and Sierra Leone last August.
There have been more than 22,600 suspected, probable and confirmed cases of Ebola in the two countries and more than 8,500 deaths, according to the WHO.
Liberia hasn't had a confirmed case of Ebola in the past five weeks. If no new cases are reported by May 9 — 42 days after the burial of the victim in the last confirmed case — the WHO will declare the nation Ebola-free.
Confirmed cases in Sierra Leone have dropped sharply, from 81 new cases reported at the end of a week in late February/early March to 11 new cases in the last weekly report.
The new head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response said last week that it is important to eliminate ebola before the start of the rainy season in June and July.
The missionaries transferred by the LDS Church late last summer were moved as a precaution to a variety of other missions. The majority of the missionaries were natives of African nations, though more than 100 were from the United States and Canada.
"Ensuring the health and safety of our missionaries is our top priority," a church statement said at the time of the transfers.
The church has provided food and other aid to the region during the Ebola crisis.
Liberia has more than 8,000 LDS Church members in 22 congregations.
Sierra Leone is home to more than 13,000 Latter-day Saints in 30 congregations.
Contributing: Sam Penrod