Ebola: A Virus to Kill, to Steal, to Destroy.
Last Sunday was unlike most other Sundays. The usually spirited church services marked by generous handshakes and hugs were instead replaced by simple smiles and nervous attempts to ensure that one made no contact with the person sitting next to you. There was just one reason for this sudden respect for another person’s personal space. The Ebola virus.
Ebola is a viral disease that began spreading in the western part of Africa in early April this year, since then, it has spread across Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Since beginning to spread there have been 1310 laboratory confirmed cases and 1145 deaths cases in the continent. With the 90% mortality rate of this strain of the Ebola virus, it really is no wonder the disease is causing so much tension across the globe. The health impacts of the Ebola disease are devastating and the World Health Organization has been led to declare this an International Public Health Emergency.
This disease however, also has significant economic implications. Sierra Leone is one of the Western African countries affected by Ebola. The impact of Ebola on Sierra Leone’s economy can be observed via its weighty impact on Agriculture. Sierra Leone is heavily dependent on agriculture for income and employment, with the agricultural sector responsible for 49% of the nation’s GDP. The outbreak conversely, has hit the districts of Kilahun, Kenema and Kono which are the agricultural regions of the country. Looking at the production of cocoa in the nation for example, cocoa contributes about 7.5% of exports- thus a large share of the total agricultural production. It has been predicted that this outbreak will mean that this year, Sierra Leone will only produce 10,000 metric tons of cocoa. At current market prices, this would mean that total cocoa production would be $18, 692,000. Whereas in 2012, cocoa exports alone were valued at $57,137,297. That is a loss of well over $39,000,000. This scenario highlights just the case for cocoa, but similar output reductions are expected for other agricultural products such as rice and other agricultural products from the nation. Hence, we expect to see a fall in the GDP of Sierra Leone based on the impact of the Ebola virus’ impact on the agricultural sector.
In Guinea, the World Bank predicts that the gross domestic product will fall by 1% to 3.5% due to the impact that this disease has had on business and trade. This impact results from firstly, the shutdown of Guinea’s borders to both human and good traffic to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea Bissau.
The same applies to Liberia, with Ivory Coast recently shutting its borders to both air travelers and shipments from Liberia. As Liberia’s second largest African trade partner, Cote D’Ivoire is responsible for 1.1% of exports which is equivalent to $10,371,187, which is to be lost if the borders remain shut.
Liberian Export Partners by value of Exports:
United States: $136,009,511.58
Others: $370, 252,037.01
Cote D’Ivoire: $10,373,187.20
These economic implications that have been brought about by reduced productivity and trade are further buttressed by the huge cost implications for countries fighting against this disease. The Nigerian Federal Government has recently committed 1.9bn Naira to the fight against the Ebola virus. Likewise has occurred in Liberia, Sierra Leona and Guinea who have seen spikes in health expenditure in the continuous fight against the encroachment of the Ebola virus. In summary, as we think through means of fighting the health implications of this disease, we should also think about the means of curbing the economic impact of Ebola. What we are faced with as a continent has the capacity to cripple not just humans but bring to a halt economies if not curbed and quickly too. Lax measures have to come to an end, a lackadaisical attitude done away with, and cultural practices which expose us to even more danger, shunned. African countries affected have to take up arms and battle like an alien invader this disease that seems to have cropped up from nowhere and assaulted our borders. As such, the words of Brutus in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ come to mind: ‘We must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures’.