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Even West Africans Who Don’t Catch Ebola Are Being Hurt By the Disease

Ebola’s toll is more than just a body count

Garmai Sumo with the Liberian red cross supervises a burial team as they pull out the body of 40-year-old Mary Nyanforh, in Monrovia, Liberia, on October 14, 2014. (Marcus DiPaola/NurPhoto/Corbis)
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At last count, Ebola has infected 5,006 people and killed 4,493; health experts acknowledge that's likely an underestimate. Though Nigeria was declared free from the disease by the World Health Organization, the virus is still coursing through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Experts with the CDC expect things to get much, much worse before they get better. And Ebola is taking a massive toll—not just on the people who contract the disease—but on a much larger group of people living in West Africa.

Ostracized Orphans

One of the most abrupt secondary consequences of someone dying to Ebola is the effect it has on their family. If the victim is a parent, their children may become orphaned. As the Telegraph writes, as many as 5,000 children have been orphaned by the outbreak. These children may be totally free of the Ebola virus but that doesn't exempt them from the stigma of the disease. 

Such is the fear of infection in the country’s small towns and villages that neighbours are shunning the surviving children of the dead, ignoring the long established African tradition of taking orphan children into your home.

Now charity workers are warning it will take months of care and counselling to rebuild the children’s shattered lives and persuade communities to accept them again.

No Room for Normal Healthcare

Hospitals in Ebola-stricken regions are out of beds. With doctors and nurses focused on the Ebola epidemic, and hospitals overwhelmed, care for other diseases is slipping. This means that, in Liberia, children are at risk for health problems that would normally be treatable because there's no room for them in health care facilities, says UNICEF.

Children are not receiving protective vaccinations or being treated for the common childhood illnesses that account for the majority of deaths in children under 5 years of age – including malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, and severe acute malnutrition.

As terrible as Ebola is, the major killers of children around the world are vaccine-preventable diseases and malnutrition. With a healthcare system pushed past the brink, some of these children may needlessly die.

Another consequence of saturated hospitals, says UNICEF, is that “pregnant women have few places to deliver their babies safely.”

Running Out of Food

According to Reuters, food prices in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are up 24 percent since the Ebola outbreak began. Farmers are dying to the disease, and quarantine measures to prevent the spread of the virus are also preventing the free flow of food to market. The measures have “led to food scarcity and panic buying,” says Reuters.

"Planting and harvesting are being disrupted with implications for food supply further down the line. There is a high risk that prices will continue to increase during the coming harvest season," said WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs.

A Devastated Economy

On the longer term, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that the Ebola epidemic is ravaging her country's economy. “She said the outbreak had undone much of the recovery achieved in the wake of Liberia's 1989-2003 civil war,” Reuters wrote.

The International Monetary Fund has cut its forecast of how much the African economy will grow this year, is part because of Ebola, says Bloomberg:

“The Ebola outbreak could have much larger regional spillovers, especially if it is more protracted or spreads to other countries, with trade, tourism, and investment confidence severely affected,” according to the IMF. “In Ebola-affected countries, fiscal accounts are likely to deteriorate, and, where public debt is manageable, fiscal deficits should be allowed to widen temporarily.”

Even if a vaccine is developed, or control measures are able to reign in the Ebola epidemic, the current outbreak's effects will likely ripple throughout society for years if not decades to come.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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