Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma says the Ebola outbreak has been devastating to his country’s economy, crippling businesses and households. But the country is focused on rebuilding its health system and economy.
His government is considering establishing a Center for Disease Control to help prevent and combat future disease outbreaks. "We will be required to train more of our personnel," he said in an interview with VOA.
Koroma's remarks followed a Wednesday meeting at the White House. U.S. President Barack Obama had invited the leaders of the three West African countries hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic – Koroma, Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf and Guinean President Alpha Condé – to assess progress against the disease and toward socioeconomic recovery.
Since the Ebola outbreak began in late 2013 in Guinea, 25,791 cases have been reported, with 10,689 deaths, according to the World Health Organization's latest report. All but a few infections have occurred in the three countries. Sierra Leone alone had 12,201 reported cases and 3,857 deaths.
While Sierra Leone reported nine new cases last week, the overall caseload is declining and the disease is fading from the region.
Koroma told VOA the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
"As a result of Ebola, most businesses shut down," he said. "A good number of the mining companies ceased operations, flights were canceled to the country, tourism was almost brought to a standstill, and even within the country, businesses that were operating scaled down substantially."
"So, there was a considerable slowdown in the economy; loss of revenue to government, loss of revenue to individuals and businesses and the country was more or less isolated. Nobody ventured in, nobody will discuss business at this time," Koroma added.
The World Bank estimated that Ebola will cost the three West African countries at least $1.6 billion in lost economic growth this year alone.
Koroma, speaking after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday, said he was grateful for U.S. assistance to help combat Ebola.
The Sierra Leonean leader said Obama assured him that he's committed to help the West African nation fight the deadly disease. He added the U.S. president said he was "also prepared to provide support to us in our recovery programs, and in our post-Ebola economic development proposals."
Koroma said that at the height of the Ebola outbreak last year, his country's only visitors were officials or representatives from international health organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and representatives of financial institutions such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank.
The disease has damaged the entire West African region, Koroma said. Neighboring Liberia and Guinea are the two other countries most severely affected.
Koroma said his government plans to revamp its health system. That includes establishing a Center for Disease Control to help train health officials to be better equipped to combat future disease outbreaks.
"It will also require us to ensure that we put in systems that will focus on isolation, prevention and strengthen our capacity to track diseases. Not only to finish up the fight against Ebola, but also to ensure that we develop the capacity that will enable us to fight back any future outbreak."