Ebola Outbreak: Lessons for Africa

Published on 21st October 2014

The World Health Organization has praised Nigeria’s swift action that has seen the Ebola outbreak in the country contained. The 160 million people-strong country had 20 cases which caused eight deaths. Officials attribute the success to strong tracking and isolation of people exposed to the virus, and aggressive rehydration of infected patients.

Unless concerted efforts are heightened, Ebola threatens to cause a dent on the Africa Rising narrative. Already, the International Monetary Fund has cut its forecast for economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa this year to 5 percent from 5.5 percent, partly due to the “economic spillovers” from the disease. Having closed their borders with affected countries for example, Senegal and Ivory Coast are losing trade. Gambia, a tourist-dependent nation located near Senegal’s border with Guinea has seen hotel booking plummet by 65 percent due to fear of the virus. Lagos city has seen malls and shops experience declines in demand, sometimes in the range of 20 to 40 percent.

The disease is a clear pointer that Africa must invest in the health industry. It is paradoxical that a continent that carries 25% of the world’s diseases imports around 70% of its pharmaceutical needs from abroad. Two thirds of global value of pharmaceutical products are produced in 5 countries; USA, Japan, France, Germany and UK. It is also a revelation that what happens in one country affects the other. This time it is Ebola; next time it could be an "Ebola" policy. Individual countries must guard against formulating policies that stifle intra-Africa trade. The disease is also a wakeup call for African countries to invest in raising productive citizens that will expand the national pie and pay for the upkeep of their governments. The disease has exposed Africa’s soft economic underbelly that has seen European countries commit more than 500m euros (£400m; $600m) to manage the Ebola outbreak.

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