With the latest death toll from the dreaded Ebola disease now at 3,439 in the three worst-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, a new World Bank economic report has warned that if the epidemic was not contained by December 2014, West African economy may be significantly impacted negatively.
The new impact assessment report released on Tuesday said countries close to the three countries most devastated by the disease, some of which have much larger economies, may suffer financial losses of about $32.6 billion (about N5.216trillion) by the end of 2015.
The World Bank Group, which is coordinating assistance closely with the United Nations and other international and country partners, is supporting country responses in line with the World Health Organisation,WHO, roadmap.
Consequently, the Bank Group said it was currently mobilizing $400 million in emergency financing for the three countries hardest-hit by the crisis.
According to the report, with the growing uncertainty that the spread of the epidemic would be fully contained by December 2014, two alternative scenarios would likely be used to estimate the medium-term (2015) impact of the epidemic, extending to the end of calendar year 2015.
The “Low Ebola” scenario, the Bank, said would correspond to rapid containment within the three most severely affected countries, while the “High Ebola” scenario would correspond to slower containment in the three countries, with broader regional contagion.
The Bank Group’s analysis noted that the economic impacts of Ebola, which were already very serious in the core three countries, particularly Liberia and Sierra Leone, could assume catastrophic proportions under a slow-containment (High Ebola) scenario.
On the other hand, in broader regional terms, the report said the economic impact could be limited if immediate national and international action were taken to stop the epidemic and alleviate the “aversion behavior” or fear factor.
As a result of the fear factor from the disease, neighbouring countries have been forced into closing their borders, while airlines and other regional and international companies have had to suspend their commercial activities in the three worst-affected countries, the report stated.
The World Bank, however, cited the successful containment of Ebola in Nigeria and Senegal so far as evidence that halting the spread of the disease was possible, given some existing health system capacity and a resolute policy response.
“With Ebola’s potential to inflict massive economic costs on Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and the rest of their neighbours in West Africa, the international community must find ways to get past logistical roadblocks and bring in more doctors and trained medical staff, more hospital beds, and more health and development support to help stop Ebola in its tracks,” World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim, said.
“The international community now must act on the knowledge that weak public health infrastructure, institutions, and systems in many fragile countries are a threat not only to their own citizens but also to their trading partners and the world at large,” Mr. Kim added.
He said the enormous economic cost of the current outbreak to the affected countries and the world could have been avoided by prudent ongoing investment in health systems-strengthening.
The report noted that effort and memory would be required to sustain and continue strengthening the early warning network and the complementary investments in effective and resilient African health systems after the Ebola outbreak has been contained.
The first step to stem the spread of the Ebola epidemic, the report stated, would, apart from the containment effort, include the fiscal support, the restoration of investor confidence, and the expanded disease surveillance, diagnostic and treatment capacity, to help to reverse as quickly as possible the aversion behaviour that is causing so much economic damage.
A key issue looking forward, the report said would be to re-establish investor trust so that as the epidemic is contained, domestic and international investment could return.
The World Bank Group said urgent policies would be needed to jumpstart the renewed flow of relief and commercial activity (for health, business, and tourism purposes) with the affected countries, while also safeguarding other countries from being affected.
“To this end, options should be explored for financing improvements to health security infrastructure and protocols of the seaports and airports of the three core countries and their neighbours,” the report stated.