Ebola impacts economies through productivity loss

The Ebola virus outbreak of 2014 is the largest in history. The only Ebola epidemic ever to occur in multiple countries has now killed over 3,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. All of the countries seriously afflicted with Ebola lie in West Africa, specifically Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

First, let’s take a brief look at the history of Ebola. Ebola is a deadly virus that is spread from wild animals to humans, who then spread the Ebola virus among other people via human-to-human transmission. When the 2014 epidemic began, Ebola’s fatality rate was dangerously close to 100 percent. At the moment, Ebola has a fatality rate of 50 percent within those diagnosed and is spread through contact with contaminated clothing and bodily fluids.

While this fatality rate is still atrociously high, it is better than the death sentence Ebola previously predicted. The main symptoms of Ebola include the onset of fever and fatigue, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, impaired liver and kidney function, internal bleeding and eventual death.

The first outbreak of Ebola occurred simultaneously in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, near the Ebola River, thus granting the virus its name. In the current outbreak, countries such as Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have been especially vulnerable due to their weak healthcare systems and slow recovery from civil unrest in the past decades. Along with the enormous death toll and the psychological human impact, another concerning aspect of the Ebola outbreak is its economic ramifications.

Between private donations and those from nations and local governments, millions of dollars have already been dedicated to preventing the spread of Ebola, with a projected expense total of billions of dollars to contain the virus. However, these costs do not represent the only economic impact of Ebola; these are only the direct costs. It’s what will not be done due to fear of the outbreak that will severely damage these West African economies.

What won’t be done? For one, people will travel less due to closed borders as well as fear of the contagious disease. Countries that haven’t even experienced cases of Ebola – such as Ghana, which has devoted more resources than ever to the monitoring and awareness-raising of Ebola – are losing human productivity by focusing time and resources on the possibility that Ebola might spread to their nations. Nigeria, which has only experienced a few cases of Ebola, is expected to lose $2 billion in the third quarter of this year, due to cuts made to airline services, the hospitality industry and trade.

Nonetheless, there are positive aspects to the precautions taken against the spread of Ebola. Hopefully, with more people educated about the disease, it will be less likely to spread. This mindset works to limit the death toll. After all, it is preferable to lose money rather than human lives. So while action is necessary to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus, I would urge less affected countries of West Africa to keep in mind the strong words of FDR during another economic crisis: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Scott Johnson ’18 johnso16@stolaf.edu is from Gladstone, Mo. He majors in history.