World Bank Says Ebola’s Spread May Have Catastrophic Cost

The World Bank warned that the economic costs of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa will escalate to “catastrophic” proportions if the virus spreads, while Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama criticized the international response to the disease.

“If other countries in the vicinity in the subregion of West Africa fail to do what Nigeria and Senegal have done -- which is to keep things under control -- then the costs will become much much larger,” Francisco Ferreira, World Bank chief economist for Africa, said in a Sept. 19 interview in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.

The spread of the virus may cost Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three nations where most infections have taken place, as much as $809 million, the World Bank said on Sept. 17. Early findings of the lender’s research into the economic risks of the disease spreading to other countries show the damage could be more severe, he said.

Mahama said in an interview in New York yesterday that the Ebola outbreak may reduce gross domestic product in the region by about 3.6 percent. Funds pledged by international donors haven’t yet flowed in and a “panic response” by closing borders and airlines canceling flights are further damaging the worst-hit economies, he said.

“These resources should be fast-tracked so that the countries have the resources to be able to fight the disease,” he said.

Aid Pledges

More than people have already died from Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since the outbreak started in December and over 5,000 have been infected with the disease, according to the World Health Organization. The disease poses a threat to potential global security, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sept. 16.

The outbreak will probably be contained within six to nine months, Mahama said. While the United Nations has estimated the region needs $1 billion in funds to fight the disease, so far pledges have amounted to about $350 million, he said.

The economic costs of the outbreak are largely a result of fear and aversion behavior which spreads quickly once populations sense an outbreak might be out of control, Ferreira said. A World Bank report on the topic will probably be presented at the lender’s annual meetings next month, he said.

“If that happens in a larger country like Nigeria or Senegal then the costs would be much much higher,” he said.

Good Controls

Nigeria has a population of about 170 million and a gross domestic product of $523 billion, while Senegal has 13 million people and a $15 billion economy. By contrast the three most affected nations have a combined population of 21 million people and their economic output is $13 billion in total.

In Nigeria, eight people have died from the disease, while in Senegal there has been one case with the infected person recovering.

Both Senegal and Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, have so far managed to control the spread of the disease through measures such as establishing adequate treatment centers that help quell the “panic factor,” Francisco said.

The World Bank approved a $105 million grant as part of its $200 million commitment to help contain Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, it said on Sept. 16.

“There is a very bad scenario lurking out there for which we should be ready and which argues for very urgent action right now,” Ferreira said.

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