Ebola Epidemic: Positive News Remain Under The Radar

Written by Andrew Friedman

An unfortunate part of media coverage running from crisis to crisis is that it rarely leaves time for positive news when last month’s crisis takes a turn for the better. There may be no better example of this coverage hole than Ebola.

While the virus raged and the number of those affected was doubling every few weeks, apocalyptic projections were the norm for news coverage. Now, while there is some positive news to report, it flies under the radar of most pundits.

To start, Liberia, the country most affected by the virus, both in deaths and cases, seems to have turned the tide against the outbreak. While in the early days of the outbreak cases were doubling every three weeks and predictions for more than 20,000 cases in the country by the end of October, Liberia today has seen only about 6500 cases.

The country has also slowed the outbreak to about 100 new cases per week, a stark contrast from pundit predictions in the emergency’s early days.

Liberia President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is cautiously optimistic in her country’s future prospects against the disease.

In an interview with USA Today she said the country hopes to have zero cases by Christmas. She acknowledged that this was a “tall order” but expressed a renewed sense of vigor against the outbreak. “We like to say that Ebola was running after us two months ago. Today we are running after Ebola.”

The success of Liberia in fighting the disease and stemming new outbreaks is not the only good news that has arisen in recent days.

At an event in Johannesburg, Francisco Ferreira, the World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa, stated that the outbreak will likely cost the three most affected West African states, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, a total of $3 to $4 billion USD. While this is a tragic number for the three already impoverished states, it is a far cry from initial projections of up to $32 billion in lost GDP.

The Economic Impact

The economic impact of $3 to $4 billion in lost GDP should not be understated.

Even before the outbreak the three countries ranked among the world’s poorest. Of 228 countries and territories surveyed in the World Factbook’s 2013 edition, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia ranked 208th, 218th and 223rd respectively in GDP per capita.

While statistics can sometimes run dry, a recent World Bank survey went a long way in demonstrating the real, human impact of the economic devastation.

According to the study, “nearly half of all Liberians who were employed when the Ebola outbreak began are no longer working.” This economic devastation is not limited to areas of the country where the outbreak was rampant. Predictably, the country’s poorest communities are the hardest hit and 70% of the survey’s respondents say they can no longer afford enough food.

The economic impact extends far beyond just the three countries most affected by the outbreak.

According to The Africa Report, “several West African countries have significant numbers of expatriate workers in critical sectors of the economy and the fear of Ebola has caused almost a mass movement of foreigners back to their home countries.” This included Ghana, which has no reported cases of Ebola but has seen “some global companies [evacuate] non-essential foreign personnel.”

Similarly, Nigeria has reported significant tourism losses, with Nigerian economist Bismarck Rewane telling the AP that in five star Lagos hotels that normally have a 65 percent occupancy this time of year there is less than half that, at around 30 percent. This is despite Nigeria being declared Ebola free by the WHO more than a month ago.

Hurting Tourism

It is not even just West Africa that feels the economic crunch. In the same lecture where he issued new, much more positive estimates for the economic impact of the outbreak in the three most affected countries, Ferreira decried the impact on tourism across the continent. This echoes a September survey showing “that travel bookings were down as much as 70 percent, even for destinations far away from the affected areas,” according to the BBC.

According to an October report by the Telegraph’s travel section, the tourist market is feeling the pinch in far-flung tourist destinations such as South Africa and Kenya.

As devastating as the virus has been on the economies of the three states, it is difficult to even imagine the countries had the World Bank’s initial projections of nearly ten times the actual impact, or $32 billion lost came to pass.

According to World Bank statistics, Liberia’s 2013 GDP was approximately $1.95 billion, Sierra Leone’s came in at $4.93 billion and Guinea’s was the largest, at $6.19 billion, making the total of the three just over $13.07 billion USD. This means that initial World Bank projections would have had the three countries losing more than double their combined GDP over the last year before Ebola struck.

While it is easy to get caught up in horrifying projections, both for casualty and economic tolls, the reality has proven much less damaging than initial predictions. This s a significant positive for the three most affected countries, the region and, indeed, the whole of Africa.


Andrew Friedman is a human rights attorney and freelance consultant who works and writes on legal reform and constitutional law with an emphasis on Africa. He can be reached via email at afriedm2@gmail.com or via twitter @AndrewBFriedman.