Ebola's economic impact expected to be widespread

A health worker checks the temperature of a woman leaving Guinea at the border with Mali in Kouremale on Oct. 2, 2014.

REUTERS/Joe Penney

The current, unprecedented Ebola epidemic has already had a horrific impact on the nations in West Africa where the outbreak began, especially in terms of the thousands of lives lost. But analysts believe the outbreak's damage to international economies will continue to grow, and may take years to correct.

Last month the World Bank issued a report on the Ebola outbreak's financial repercussions. It noted that, along with the toll in human lives and suffering, the epidemic was creating higher fiscal deficits in the affected countries -- as well as higher prices, lower incomes and an overall increase in poverty levels.

In the short-term, the economic impact for the worst-hit countries has been enormous: With Ebola-related losses costing Liberia an estimated 4.7 percent of its GDP, it is also draining off nearly two percent of gross domestic product from both Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Adding to the tragedy, according to a new report by The Brookings Institution, is that Sierra Leone and Liberia had seen their economies strengthen prior to the outbreak, as the two nations recovered from years of civil war and political upheaval.

The epidemic is also crippling West African economies via a wide spectrum of factors. International travel quarantines, for example, are reducing revenues from trade, transport and tourism. At the same time, the epidemic has halted a large percentage of the region's agricultural activity, which is expected to affect crop yields on several essential food staples, while creating food price spikes.

And fear of disease has eroded investor confidence, which in turn has restricted work, production and output at several international mining and oil operations in the region.

But the economic impact doesn't stop in West Africa. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is projecting that around 1.4 million people will become infected with Ebola before the epidemic runs its course. And the United Nations is estimating the costs of containing the Ebola outbreak at about $1 billion.

"This is not just a health crisis," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last month. "It has grave humanitarian, economic and social consequences that could spread far beyond the affected countries."

However, as World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim noted in September, "our findings make clear that the sooner we get an adequate containment response and decrease the level of fear and uncertainty, the faster we can blunt Ebola's economic impact."