Foresight Africa 2015: Eradicating Ebola and Strengthening African Health Systems
A heavy disease burden, underpinned by malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, continues to erode human welfare and economic potential in Africa. However, in 2014, no disease was more destabilizing than the Ebola virus, which, by mid-December, had killed 6,373 people and affected nearly 18,000 in the three hardest-hit countries—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In addition to the health emergency caused by the outbreak, the most-affected countries have experienced severe economic consequences, with their agriculture, mining and tourism sectors suffering negative growth in 2014. As the Ebola virus revealed its pandemic potential, spreading to eight countries on three continents, the economic impacts of the outbreak are also being felt throughout West Africa and across the continent.
In her brief, Africa Growth Initiative Nonresident Senior Fellow Vera Songwe discusses the effects of the 2014 Ebola outbreak on African societies and economies, arguing that, to an extent, the continent—especially West Africa—remains vulnerable to spillover effects such as, reductions in economic activity due to travel bans and border closures, and the continued weakening of already overtaxed health systems.
Songwe suggests that, in the short term, the biggest challenge is bringing the number of new Ebola cases to zero, which will require strong leadership from the region’s governments and health services, rapid assistance from local and international partners, adequate coordination with the international community and confidence-building measures targeted at public health systems. Longer-term recovery should focus on strengthening health systems, establishing innovative partnerships to research and develop vaccines, planning for economic recovery, and reforming global health crisis management systems.