Red flags raised as Ebola set to reverse development gains – UN study finds / The fight against Ebola drifts beyond the health crisis with the emergence of 2015 socio-economic projections

By United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, November 14, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Sierra Leone must be braced for the social and economic shock resulting from the Ebola crisis, according to a new study co-sponsored by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Economic and Social Impact of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Sierra Leone, released 14 November, 2014, raises red flags in the wake of the epidemic that has so far claimed over 5,000 lives, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since it began in early 2014. Most notably, the report warns that the socio-economic progress made over the last few years is stopped in its tracks and, in some cases, completely reversed.

“While priority number one must be to stop the spread of Ebola, protecting Sierra Leone from the wider damage caused by this disease is crucial,” said David McLachlan-Karr, the Resident Representative for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Resident Coordinator for the UN in Sierra Leone. “This report is a sobering warning that shows us that Sierra Leone faces a dramatic GDP loss (gross domestic product), significant inflation, and a severe drop in trade and production nationwide across many sectors.”

The report, a synthesis of surveys and analyses by the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, found that disruptions in most sectors will shrink the GDP from a successful 20.1% in 2013, which was close to the fastest economic growth in the world, to a projected 5% for 2014. Furthermore, shortages in food, foreign currency, and depreciation of the national currency (Leone) will put pressure on the national budget and Sierra Leone's post-Ebola recovery.

Quarantined districts and health checkpoints across the country have limited the movement of not only people, but goods as well, which is causing prices to soar and incomes to shrink. People simply have less money to spend on items that are becoming more expensive.

The social implications of Ebola are equally as damaging. With schools closed since the crisis began, children face at least a year of academic set-backs which will impact the future workforce and brain trust; expectant mothers are dying at alarming rates in childbirth due to fear and failed healthcare systems, and 80% of people living with HIV have not been able to access their management treatments.

“Getting ahead of this crisis is so important,” Mr. McLachlan-Karr said. “We're committed to not just arresting the reversal of development gains, but to turning the tide against it.”

The study advises policy recommendations for addressing the Ebola crisis with a mind to protecting the most vulnerable. It looks at the value of lockdowns, like the one implemented in September 2014 and seen as a largely successful intervention at the time. While a 21-day lockdown could isolate and assuredly strangle the spread of the virus, it will surely place a significant burden on Sierra Leone's poorest and most vulnerable.

Some of the other findings in the report include:

• Increased financial instability: borrowers are falling short on loan repayments, which has caused banks to limit new loans and a tightening of financial ranks.

• The suspension of commercial flights by all but two airlines has not only impacted tourism and the movement of people, but has also limited the amount of foreign cash in the coffers.

• The heath sector has all but ceased to operate for non-Ebola cases. Many healthcare workers, who are the most at risk for contracting the Ebola virus, have stopped reporting to work forcing clinics and hospitals to close; meanwhile, patients suffering from non-Ebola conditions are avoiding any professional health care putting them at risk of harm and even death from common preventable disease.

• Gender-based violence is significantly on the rise and women are particularly at risk.

Findings from the study will be used by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to inform the budget development for 2015. It will also inform UN agencies and other development actors as to how non-direct Ebola programming can have a great impact on the future of Sierra Leone as it navigates through this devastating crisis.

UNDP is at the forefront of the fight against Ebola, mobilizing communities against the disease, helping people recover from the crisis and assisting governments to continue to provide basic services, and to develop Ebola impact assessments and recovery plans.

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