The global response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak has been under severe scrutiny since it was confirmed for the first time in March of this year. As early as April, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned that the outbreak and subsequent spread was “unprecedented.” With almost 4,500 deaths, Ebola is considered the worst outbreak of the disease ever experienced since it was first identified in 1976.
The economic impact that this will have, not only on the most heavily affected countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea but also on the entire region, is of great concern. Even as far as South Africa, the fear of Ebola has led to a significant rise in flight and tour cancellations from tourists, especially those travelling in from the Far East.
According to Etienne van Wyk, Programme Manager for Healthcare at Frost & Sullivan Africa, local operators in South Africa have seen 80-90% of tours from these countries being cancelled out of fear of contracting the Ebola virus. While most of the more informed and well-travelled European tourists do not appear to be quite as concerned about South Africa, many feel there is a significant risk in travelling through hubs such as Heathrow in London, which receives travellers from all over the world including countries in West Africa.
“The outbreak is far from contained, and the WHO is now stating that there could soon be as many as 10,000 new cases per week in the near future. While there is no cure for Ebola, there are a number of researchers working on a vaccine, but according to the BBC and DR Ripley Ballou from GSK, this will come too late for this outbreak. Others believe that the epidemic may only be stopped by a vaccine, which will most likely not be available until early next year, further increasing fears of the possibility that the disease may spread to neighbouring countries.”
“The concern has now shifted, from the inability to contain the disease in rural African regions due to poor infrastructure, to the transmission in the US and the inexplicable blunder of allowing a nurse considered to be ‘at risk’ to board a commercial flight. Globalisation, and the frequency of flights, has always been listed as one of the most significant risks in outbreaks such as Ebola, and now with calls to suspend all flights from affected countries, the disease is taking on a whole new dimension.
While the loss of human life is devastating, the long term implications are far wider reaching.”