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Monday, December 15, 2014

The economic impact of Ebola: “Isolate the virus, not the country”

In recent months, Liberian Minister for Gender and Development Julia Duncan-Cassell travelled the United States, United Kingdom and The Netherlands to engage with foreign governments and businesses, and look past Ebola. Her message: “isolate the virus, not the countries involved”. Club Africa spoke with the minister and two entrepreneurs from the affected region to better understand the effect Ebola has on businesses in West Africa.

“The Liberian economy has come to a complete standstill”, minister Duncan-Cassell says. “Out of fear for the disease, foreign investors and expatriates fled the country. Mines shut down and railroads are no longer in use. If you were a truck driver in Monrovia you are forced to quit your job, as everybody is afraid to contract Ebola. Vessels have stranded at the Liberian coast. They have permission to enter Liberia, but once they leave our port they will be refused by neighbouring countries. The cause of this crisis clearly lies with our healthcare system. Already poorly equipped healthcare facilities collapsed under the influx of patients, let alone could treat patients in a manner appropriate to curb the disease. Our call to international investors and business people is to help us rebuild healthcare capacity, so that we might control the virus in the foreseeable future.”

Business goes on

Though the epidemic is widespread, not every of Liberia’s fifteen counties has been hit equally hard. Outside Monrovia, business goes on. Stanley Slagmolen, whose family has owned a rubber plantation since the 1950s, says: “We implemented strict preventive regulations for our Liberian employees. Largely destroyed by the Liberian civil war, in 2010 we began replanting trees on our farm, which covers one hundred hectares of land. We employ local rubber craftsmen and women, and supervisors who oversee the plot. Because of the Ebola outbreak, no outsiders are allowed to enter the farm. Employees wash their hands with chloride. Public transportation is ruled out; employees must make use of the company’s transportation services. We try to bring ill employees to healthcare facilities, but with that I touch on the main cause of the current epidemic: Liberia’s medical infrastructure collapsed in its entirety.”

Starting all over again

In neighbouring country Sierra Leone, in a similar fashion economic activity slowed down. Simon Seisay, Business Development Manager Sierra Leone at Holland Shipyards, not only recounts the impact Ebola has on business in his country. Due to the virus, he lost relatives, friends and colleagues. Simon: “Because of Ebola, in Sierra Leone we will have to start all over again – the epidemic cut back all we built up. The confidence and motivation that the Sierra Leonean people so direly need, was robbed from them. When Ebola will have been eradicated – and it will – we face an enormous task: rebuilding our economy.”

Looking beyond Ebola

Liberian Minister Duncan-Cassell concludes: “The number of Ebola victims will surpass 20,000 within six months if nothing is done. Looking beyond Ebola, the government prioritises citizen education in order to help people distinguish fact from fiction. In addition, our aim is to strengthen healthcare institutions. We welcome all foreign investors, entrepreneurs, NGOs and other international partners who want to help us fight Ebola – the crisis is too debilitating for us to solve it on our own.”

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