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After Ebola was first reported in Guinea in March 2014, major outbreaks spread quickly to Sierra Leone and Liberia, and then to Nigeria by August. As the death tolls continue to rise, managing the spread and aiding the affected is urgent not just for West Africa, but also for donor organizations and governments channelling cash and in-kind contributions to the region to fight this deadly disease.
CGD’s work on the Ebola crisis has focused on long-term lessons for health systems in developing countries, the importance of well-qualified leadership at the World Health Organization, the futility of travel bans, the economic cost of the crisis for the affected West African countries, and the importance of tracking funding for donor accountability.
Developing countries are characterized by high rates of mortality and morbidity. A potential contributing factor is the low utilization of health systems, stemming from the low perceived quality of care delivered by health personnel. This factor may be especially critical during crises, when individuals choose whether to cooperate with response efforts and frontline health personnel. We experimentally examine efforts aimed at improving health worker performance in the context of the 2014–15 West African Ebola crisis.
On September 23, the Washington Post aired a disagreement between the US Center for Disease Control Ebola experts and the Médecins Sans Frontieres Ebola doctors regarding the value of community Ebola treatment centers staffed with community volunteers for Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
This Wonkcast was originally recorded on September 2, 2014.
As the Ebola epidemic continued to spread in West Africa, with more than 3,000 cases and 1,500 deaths, I invited CGD senior fellow Mead Over, a health economist and one of the world’s top experts on the economics of HIV/AIDS, to discuss newly released maps from the World Health Organization (WHO) and measures for limiting the economic fallout from the epidemic.
The priority for policymakers concerned about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa should be to respond to the existing outbreak, treat the victims, and contain its spread. But the longer term lesson is that we need to be willing to spend more on global health.
It’s too early to know how large the economic impact of Ebola will be on West Africa and the world. Past experience, including the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, suggest it could be very large indeed, especially in the African countries that have been hardest hit. Fortunately, actions that the US and other donor countries take now could help not only to control the epidemic but also to minimize the economic fallout.