MONTGOMERY, New Jersey — What happens when a disease ravages entire regions of the world? The ramifications of outbreaks, such as the recent Ebola epidemic in Africa, can devastate the region itself.
Countries like the United States may not have been hit with the brute force of the wake of the pandemic, but it had a lasting effect on Africa’s regions and its poor.
The Washington Post published an article that included a profile of a woman who lost all of her family due to the Ebola outbreak. She was the only survivor. Many others were in similar positions, those most vulnerable were newly orphaned children, which this woman took into her house as if they were her new family.
The uptick in the orphan population, as well as the loss of familial support that some Africans have suffered, could have an economic and social impact. Although some orphans may be taken in by families, others may not.
Orphans will grow up and may need to rely on the state more heavily. Those who lost most or all of their family will also likely find it harder to have a social safety net in the most literal definition of the word. Overall, the massive social disruption caused by the causalities could pose long-term effects for the regional governments over time.
Jobs are now an issue in parts of Africa where Ebola hit hard. The scarcity of jobs after the Ebola outbreak can be attributed to a variety of effects that the outbreak had on the economics of everyday life in affected areas.
The Ebola outbreak spawned fear, and rightly so. People feared for their lives, and this caused them to stay at home. Economies ended up at a standstill, affecting a huge variety of economic sectors.
In addition, outside economic influence such as tourism or investments from abroad also became scarce. No one wanted to invest or visit an area with such fear and uncertainty in the air.
Quarantine was implemented to slow the spread of the disease. The unseen trade-off of saving lives via quarantine was the loss of economic gains by trade. Quarantine means loss of mobility and transportation of goods, thus a loss of potential economic prosperity.
Agriculture also suffered losses due to the outbreak. Because of agriculture’s large economic role in the affected African nations, detriments to agriculture affected the economy as a whole, increasing food prices among other side effects.
Overall, the physiological factors of fear and uncertainty were the biggest causes for the economic impacts of the Ebola epidemic. Some estimates place the costs to the region at more than $32 billion.
As usual, the poor usually end up suffering the most during these economic downturns. The poor often lack access to medical needs even more than other Africans (medical infrastructure is already weak in many African countries). The poor must now deal with less employment than before and higher food prices.
Eventually, economic activity will fully recover from this economic and social shock to the system. Increased attention and investment in medical systems in the region could act as cost-minimization even if there was no impending outbreak.
Greater focus should be placed on epidemiology and the poor, as well as the general populace in order to avoid the social and economic implications that society-wide health problems pose to the populace.
– Martin Yim