Ebola epidemic could cost billions: World Bank

The Ebola epidemic could cost African countries over $30 billion by the end of 2015, according to the latest economic impact assessment from the World Bank.

If the killer disease spreads to some of Africa's larger economies, the regional financial impact could hit $32.6 billion by the end of 2015, the United Nations institution warned on Wednesday.

Members of the Guinean Red Cross walk during an awareness campaign on the Ebola virus on April 11, 2014 in Conakry, Guinea.
Cellou Binani | AFP | Getty Images
Members of the Guinean Red Cross walk during an awareness campaign on the Ebola virus on April 11, 2014 in Conakry, Guinea.

The warning came as over 7,400 cases of the current outbreak of Ebola have been reported, causing more than 3,430 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. There is widespread transmission of the virus in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—the three worst-affected countries—and individual cases have been reported in Nigeria, Senegal, the U.S. and Spain.

The World Bank's report envisaged a scenario called "High Ebola", which sees slow containment of the virus and subsequent contagion across West Africa. It stressed that the economic impact on the three countries worst-affected was already "very serious", and would become "catastrophic under a slow containment, High Ebola scenario."

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"With Ebola's potential to inflict massive economic costs on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and on the rest of their neighbors in West Africa, the international community must find ways to get past logistical roadblocks and bring in more doctors and trained medical staff, more hospital beds, and more health and development support to help stop Ebola in its tracks," Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, said in a press release.

The institution called for immediate action to help stop the epidemic and alleviate the "fear factor". This would discourage neighbouing countries from closing their borders and airlines, and stop the suspension of commercial activities in the affected regions. The World Bank highlighted that both Nigeria and Senegal had so far successfully contained Ebola, demonstrating that it is possible with the right health systems and policies.

"The enormous economic cost of the current outbreak to the affected countries and the world could have been avoided by prudent ongoing investment in health systems-strengthening," Yong Kim added.

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The World Bank identified investor confidence in affected countries as a "key issue".

"(U)rgent policies will be needed to jumpstart the renewed flow of relief and commercial activity (for health, business, and tourism purposes) with the affected countries, while also safeguarding other countries from epidemiological contagion," the institution said, adding that it was mobilising $400 million in emergency financing for the three worst-hit countries.