Between December 2015 and March 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone Ebola-free, thanks to rapid clinical advancements. However, the virus has reared its ugly head again, with eight new infections in Guinea that have put a thousand more citizens under observation and the death of a five-year-old boy in Liberia. In Guinea, just the fear of contracting the deadly disease has caused residents to strictly limit their movements, refusing to venture further from their homes.
The outbreak that began in December 2013 not only claimed more than 11,000 lives in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone; it also raised concerns about how these countries will recover economically, and how soon. Home to some of Africa’s weakest health systems and most heightened levels of political insecurity, the disease left these states to bear the brunt of a weakened economy, both globally and locally, as well as dismal investor confidence.
Addressing the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum in a video conference, President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf revealed that since Liberia was struck by the outbreak, economic growth projections have been cut in half with the nation’s mining sector grounded to a halt. “The economic consequences are enormous,” Sirleaf revealed.
Even though Ebola mainly struck Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone on the far western coast of Africa, fear, panic ad stigmatization extended the economic losses to the entire region. Indeed, the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) predicted that West Africa will lose an average of US$3.6 billion per year between 2014 and 2017 due to decline in trade, closure of national borders rampant flight cancellations among others.
WHO continues to stress that the countries are still at risk of sporadic transmission of Ebola, largely due to virus persistence in some survivors, and must remain on high alert and ready to respond.” ~ European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)
West Africa has a lot to do to cushion the consequences of the first Ebola outbreak, let alone a resurgence – God forbid. Strengthening an ailing health sector, beefing up public awareness on the outbreak and demystifying the virus and how one can attract it are all needed steps, but each requires knowledge, commitment, money and cooperation from many sectors.
Although Ebola will be the subject of continued medical research, the communal nature of West African society will continue to make it vulnerable to the contagious virus should the needed political and economic steps not be taken. But the situation in West Africa also has critical lessons for the World: deadly outbreaks must be contained as a matter of emergency, the health problems of a country must be treated as possible health problems for the world population and clinical research into potential outbreaks.