The Economic and Social Impact of Ebola

How Ebola Affects the World

Ebola had a major impact on the economy of West Africa. It caused food shortages, weakened agricultural markets and disrupted trade and transport services.

The first Ebola case outside of West Africa was reported in the United States when a man who had been in direct contact with an infected person died at a Dallas hospital. It caused widespread panic.


Ebola is caused by a virus that enters the body through direct contact with infected saliva or fluids, like blood, sweat, feces and vomit. The virus causes the immune system to attack healthy cells and kill them. This process can cause a number of serious illnesses including, but not limited to, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and death.

Health workers were especially vulnerable to the disease because of their long, close contact with patients and their bodily fluids. They also faced a distrustful population, which made it hard to spread awareness and encourage people to seek care.

The outbreak affected nearly every economic sector in the three hardest-hit countries. Many large companies closed or reduced operations, and migrant workers stopped traveling to the affected areas. This reduced production and increased food prices.


Ebola is primarily transmitted through human-to-human transmission. People can be contaminated by contact with the blood, sweat or saliva of infected individuals. The virus is also pathogenic in wild animals found in tropical rainforests such as fruit bats, and humans may be contaminated by touching the animal’s skin or eating its meat (bushmeat).

Ebola symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, rash and red eyes. Patients may develop vomiting and diarrhoea, internal and external bleeding and shock. Between 25 and 90% of clinically ill cases are fatal.

Ebola outbreaks disrupt the economies of affected countries through travel restrictions, reduced agricultural production and cross-border trade. They can also have social ramifications, especially in areas where schools are closed and large companies cut back on activities.


Although the EVD outbreak in West Africa has now largely been contained, long-term economic recovery will be hampered by loss of incomes, decreased food consumption and a drop in production capacity. Mobile phone surveys show that a significant number of households have stopped work since the start of the epidemic, and that school attendance has dropped substantially.

The large Ebola outbreak in 2014-16 was the most complex to date, and was spread within Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone through contact between people and fruit bats that are natural hosts for the virus. The virus was also transmitted across borders, and infections were reported in Senegal and Nigeria.

The outbreak caused panic and led to travel restrictions, affecting trade in goods and services. This in turn reduced the production capacity of companies and reduced economic activity in the three affected countries.


When an EVD outbreak occurs, it can have massive economic impacts. The West African outbreak in 2014 cost Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria an estimated $2 billion through slowed private investment, decreased agricultural production, reduced trade, and travel restrictions.

The virus also disrupts services, including community health initiatives that help people prevent diseases. During the EVD epidemic in West Africa, service delivery was reduced by 50%.

Lastly, the infection puts health care workers at risk; more than 870 health care workers became infected and died during the epidemic. In response to this, WHO and partners like ALIMA developed innovative Biosecure Emergency Care Units for Outbreaks, which are transparent safe individual ‘rooms’. They are now being used in Congo and other countries. These facilities are helping reduce rumors and fears, and allowing families to visit their sick loved ones.


Ebola is primarily transmitted by direct contact with blood or body fluids of an infected person (living or dead). It cannot be contracted through air, nor can it spread through unprotected sexual transmission.

Indirectly, an Ebola outbreak disrupts local economies by increasing transport costs due to travel restrictions and decreasing mining activity as workers are repatriated or leave the country to avoid the risk of infection. It also leads to a decrease in agricultural production and higher food prices for affected populations.

Prevention strategies include educating the population about the importance of practicing safe hygiene, avoiding contact with reservoir species (such as forest antelopes, rodents and bats), and sensitizing people to take appropriate precautions during contact tracing and dignified burial practices. Early and culturally-relevant community engagement and mobilization are essential to support and reinforce these efforts.

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