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Ebola Hurts Economies in West Africa

  • Jim Randle

The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa is likely to hurt economic growth and government finances in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and perhaps Nigeria, according to a key analyst. Prevention efforts are crimping commerce, sports, travel and trade.

Ebola sparks fear, and protests demanding stronger and smarter government actions.

It's spread by contact with blood or other body fluids of infected people, which is why it has killed scores of medical workers and forced some hospitals to close.

Moody’s credit rating service says the costs of fighting Ebola will strain national budgets, while the slowdown in commerce will cut tax revenues and could make measurable cuts in each country's annual GDP growth. Experts say this outbreak is hurting the economy more than previous ones in Africa because it is in a more populated area.

Nigerian-born economics professor Benjamin Akande is worried. He is the dean of Webster University’s business school in the United States.

"The economic implications of this Ebola virus are staggering and it’s staggering because it’s on the edge of possibly shutting down the economic lifeline for the affected countries,” said Akande.

Numerous disruptions

Moody’s reports Ebola is likely to disrupt air travel and other critical commercial and transport activities for at least a month.

Some airlines are demanding handwashing and temperature checks for passengers, while others have canceled flights.

Officials have also closed some borders, banned some public gatherings and sports events and told some workers to stay home.

A shopkeeper said the situation is hurting commerce. “Since then the customers are low, you understand?”

A Wesleyan University disease expert said Ebola has killed more than 1,000 people and is likely to kill more. But the human and economic toll from other diseases -- like malaria -- is higher, according to William Johnston.

"Approximately 207 million cases with 627,000 deaths from malaria itself in 2012, tuberculosis, they counted 8.6 million new cases," said Johnston.

Prevention efforts

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said competing priorities are one reason there is no effective vaccine or treatment is widely available yet.

“Ebola affects a very small proportion of the population. These outbreaks are sporadic, explosive, and then disappear," said Adalja. "They are controlled using very low-tech measures that are low cost, and each outbreak has been stopped using these low-tech measures up until this one.”

Those low-tech measures include telling potential victims how to avoid infection, providing more protective suits and gloves for health workers, and a dose of soap, water and bleach.

So far, though, officials have not convinced enough people to use those measures, and the disease is not contained.

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