The high cost of Ebola

August 19, 2014

West Africa’s Ebola crisis is not just about the death toll — it’s also an economic disaster in the making. The UN’s World Food Programme declared Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia to be at the highest level of food emergencies last week. The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that “hunger is spreading fast as farmers die leaving crops rotting in fields. Truckers scared of the highly infectious disease halt deliveries. Shops close and major airlines have shut down routes, isolating large swathes of the countries.” A million people live in the Mano River region, the epicenter of the disease.

The spread of the disease is also, in part, an economic issue. Steven Hoffman and Julia Belluz at Vox write that annual healthcare spending in West Africa comes out to less than $100 per person, compared to $8,000 per person in the U.S. Ebola is spread through body fluid contact, and is thus relatively easy to avoid with the right precautionary measures. However, “aid workers on the ground… report that they don’t have access to the basics to protect themselves and their patients,” say Hoffman and Belluz.

Ebola is also pushing out whatever capacity hospitals had for treating other ailments. In an interview with the Independent, Dr. Jimmy Whitworth, the head of population health at the UK-based health foundation the Wellcome Trust, says that patients aren’t getting the care they otherwise would for diseases like malaria as a result of the Ebola outbreak. This is partly out of the fear of Ebola and partly because hospitals are over capacity. “The whole general health system is collapsing,” he says.

At BuzzFeed last week, Jina Moore reported on a mob that descended on a clinic in West Point, a slum in Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia. Patients escaped and the place was looted. A police official told a reporter from Canada’s CP24 there are concerns the whole neighborhood will be infected.

While Ebola denial is part of the problem, Moore also reports that there are underlying class tensions and mistrust of government. The residents of the neighborhood were angry that the treatment center was put in their heavily congested area without any advanced notice. Further, she writes, rumors of a quarantine of West Point — and the food insecurity that will bring — is scarier to the people who live there than the virus itself. Moore quotes West Point resident Solomon Johnson: “If that happens, people will die. You stop them from going to the market? They won’t find food to eat.”

Meanwhile, fears of Ebola are even affecting those who don’t live anywhere near the outbreak. The New York Times reports this morning that a Liberian refugee, who has lived in Ghana for ten years, says she “has found it hard to find customers or even a bus ride to town since the outbreak in her home country.” — Shane Ferro

On to today’s links:

Wonks
“People want money” – Matthew Klein
“What backs the value of money?” – Cullen Roche

Sobering Reminders
The most dangerous drug in the U.S. is alcohol – Harold Pollack

Long Reads
The rise and fall of democracy in Russia – David Remnick

Sad Trombone
Paul Singer is tired of being the bad guy in this Argentina debt fight – Tim Fernholz

Sport
The golf business is not doing well – Business Insider
The decline of golf is going to be terrible for the insider trading business – Matt Levine

Charts
The decline of the American vacation – Evan Soltas

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