Ebola could set back development, says UN

Aug 7, 2014

A health professional treats an Ebola patient in Guinea. Photo: WHO

The UN says action will be needed to protect vulnerable communities and their development achievements from the potential long-term effects of Ebola in West Africa.

Declared an international emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO), the largest ever outbreak of the disease has now claimed hundreds of lives in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with a few cases occurring in Nigeria.

Beyond the number of casualties, the present health crisis will have lasting economic and social consequences in countries recovering from years of conflict and instability. “Some of these countries were showing encouraging economic growth rates and development progress after long periods of turmoil,” says Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, the Director of the United Nations Development Programme's Regional Bureau for Africa.

“This could set them on a backward path. Emerging sectors such as tourism, agriculture and private sector investment could take a hit, and development programmes may have to be interrupted in the affected areas, which need them the most.”

In addition, measures such as border containment, quarantine, airport screening, and appropriate protection for medical personnel could cost the healthcare sectors in the region hundreds of millions of much needed dollars”.

UNDP and UN country teams are working closely with WHO which is taking charge of the medical response, while UNICEF and UNFPA are leading on community outreach, mobilization and education.

  • In Liberia, UNDP is supporting the national Ebola task force to mobilize resources, plan the response and will help conduct border surveillance and early warning activities.
  • In Sierra Leone, the UN system is working with the government to establish an Ebola Emergency Centre. UNDP efforts to improve and reform the country’s security sector will be redirected to help manage borders to contain the disease;
  • In Nigeria, the UN is mobilizing US$ 1.5 million to support government efforts to contain the spread of the disease;    
  • In Guinea, UNDP is helping the government’s national crisis committee to plan country-wide operations and is now expanding its work to include border areas.

UNDP will also launch a regional project to help Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone tackle the epidemic jointly, with a focus on border areas. In addition, UNDP economists will study the potential financial impact of the crisis on livelihoods in all three countries.

WHO has launched a new US$ 100 million response plan to stop the spread of the disease and prevent future outbreaks, while the World Bank has announced that it would contribute $200 million to contain infections, help their communities cope with the economic impact of the crisis, and improve public health systems.

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