Ebola’s Other Impact

Global Development

Author: Kenny Wu

By now, most of us who stay current with the news have heard of the outbreak of an alarming and deadly disease–


While getting infected with Ebola is a frightening prospect, those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world have, in reality, an infinitesimal chance of catching the virus. In the United States, only 2 out of the nation’s 318,946,000 people have contracted Ebola. The story in West Africa (more specifically, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) is drastically different. Ebola is not only a very real threat to the lives of West Africans, but the international perception of Ebola poses a serious menace to their livelihoods, especially since worldwide reaction to Ebola has been vastly disproportionate to the risk of contagion.

Compared with measles, where one infected person transmits the disease to an average of 18 other people, Ebola only transmits to 2 other people. Combined with Ebola’s inability to spread until symptoms show, the disease is, in fact, quite manageable for many developed countries. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, has said that an outbreak of Ebola is highly unlikely in the U.S. Yet, transportation channels to West Africa have been shut down, West African exports have been greatly reduced, and farming and mining in affected nations slowed down.

While medical treatment and prevention of Ebola may be a burden on West African wallets, what economists call “aversion behavior” to Ebola stands to impact more West Africans economically than the disease itself. In the past 12 months, this fear-driven behavior has already cut deeply into the national growth rates of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and devastated a multitude of industries ranging from agriculture to tourism. As outsiders stop traveling to West Africa and importing West African goods, fear of Ebola may further damage an already economically fragile weak region.

If Ebola is curbed soon, West Africa can rebound from a modest $3.8 billion hit to its economy. If Ebola rages on unchecked throughout the region, West Africa stands to lose $32.6 billion by the end of 2015, a much more substantial hit that can take decades to recover from. Bearing the brunt of this hit are the poor, who will likely be more affected, both in numbers and magnitude, by poverty-related diseases such as TB, malaria, and dysentery.


Sadly, many Western media sources have been harnessing fear of Ebola to fuel their stories. We can rise above the fear-mongering by staying informed about the disease. Those of us served by powerful and capable governments, can also put pressure on our politicians and lawmakers to take action in the fight against Ebola, protecting not only ourselves, but the welfare and livelihoods of our West African neighbors as well.


1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/09/05/the-economic-effects-of-ebola-on-west-africa-its-because-of-the-way-the-economies-are-structured/

2] http://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/ebola-s-economic-damage-africa-how-much-how-long

3] http://www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/publication/ebola-economic-analysis-ebola-long-term-economic-impact-could-be-devastating


Information about the Author: Kenny is a graduate from UCLA with a degree in Economics and Global Studies. He has spent the last few years traveling the world and documenting stories of people living in the developing world. He is currently the Director of Marketing for Coffee 4 Kids Honduras, a nonprofit that sells high-quality Honduran coffee to help provide medical treatment and nourishment to Honduran children.

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