Via Scientific American: Ebola Exacerbates West Africa’s Poverty Crisis. Excerpt:
Surviving Ebola is just the first challenge in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. These countries, which already lacked functioning health care systems, now face the economic and social aftereffects of a devastating outbreak.
Just as Ebola insidiously infects the very health care workers tasked with fighting it, the virus is straining already struggling countries, exacerbating problems that linger from recent civil wars and deep history. The 28 million or so people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have just a few hundred doctors, many of whom have now perished in their heroic struggle to stop the disease.
Ebola’s arrival has only worsened the prospects for controlling other entrenched tropical diseases, such as Lassa fever and malaria. Worse, given that symptoms for these other tropical maladies can be the same—and rapid tests for Ebola do not yet exist in the field—some of these patients end up in isolation wards where the infected suffer through the virus and where the risk of infection is highest.
"This forces us to pay attention to people we don't usually pay attention to," said economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, which helped convene the one-day meeting. "We shouldn't be shocked, shocked that people didn't have health care. That's the system we have in the world. We are very negligent."
The problem is not just a faltering and overstrained health system. Food supplies in countries that were already pressed for calories have dwindled further. A lack of sufficient nutrition and even outright hunger are on the rise. Economies struggle as prices for staples like rice and cassava have spiked and suspicion closes markets. Crops fail to move and farmers have found it hard to work their fields, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), with farm laborers either sick or afraid to travel.
In fact, the WFP notes that food prices have already risen by 24 percent across the board so far this year in the three worst-afflicted countries. Families have been reduced to eating one meal per day in some cases.
Paired with reduced incomes as work declines, access to food becomes harder and harder. Insurance prices for cargo traveling to or from the affected countries and their neighbors have risen, further exacerbating an incipient financial crisis. People are not working because of Ebola and are not getting paid. Without money, commerce grinds to a halt.