As a World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee on Ebola committee met today for the fourth time to consider the latest developments, the World Bank said the outbreak will continue to hobble the economies of the three most affected nations, but not at levels originally feared.
In an update on case totals today, the WHO said 21,689 Ebola infections have been reported so far in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. It put the number of deaths at 8,626. The totals reflect an increase of 316 cases and 158 fatalities since the WHO's update on Jan 16. The latest totals include cases reported for all three countries through Jan 18.
The WHO's 13-member emergency committee met today by teleconference. They were expected to discuss whether the situation still warrants a public health emergency of international concern, which has been in effect since Aug 8. The experts will also gauge whether any changes in recommendations are needed.
A statement about the group's deliberations is expected from the WHO soon.
Response actions blunt economic damage
The World Bank's most recent assessment comes on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In its latest estimate, the group predicted that the economic fallout from the Ebola outbreak on Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone will total $1.6 billion in lost growth in 2015, much lower than the $25 billion in losses that it projected in early October.
The World Bank said it revised the estimate in light of a much lower probability of international spread and lower associated economic costs beyond the three hardest hit countries, attributable to a vigorous international and national response to the epidemic over the past several months.
It added that the lower estimates also reflect Ebola containment measures taken by Nigeria, Senegal, and Mali.
In its new estimate the World Bank said cumulative losses in the entire sub-Saharan region could range from $500 million to a high of $6.2 billion if the outbreak spreads across borders, reinforcing the need for a quick end to disease activity.
Jim Yong Kim, World Bank president, said in a press release that he's encouraged by slowing Ebola transmission rates in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. "Yet as welcome as these latest signs are, we cannot afford to be complacent. Until we have zero new Ebola cases, the risk of continued severe economic impact to the three countries and beyond remains unacceptably high."
- Officials from Mali's health ministry and the WHO announced on Jan 18 that the Ebola outbreak in Mali is over, because 42 days—signifying two disease incubation periods—have passed since the last patient with Ebola tested negative. In a statement, Mali's health minister, Ousmane Krone, praised national and international groups for helping the country battle the virus. Also, Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, WHO representative and head of the United Nations (UN) Ebola mission in Mali, said the country's president and the health ministry showed strong leadership. Fall cautioned that the war on Ebola must continue until all countries in West Africa are free of the disease. Two travel-linked cases were detected in Mali in October, one of which sparked a cluster of infections. Mali's outbreak total was 7 confirmed cases, 1 suspected infection, and 6 deaths.
- Schools reopened in Guinea yesterday but attendance was low, according to a report today from the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). African media reports said many parents were afraid to send their children back to school. UNMEER said that before school started, 80,657 teachers were trained on safe protocols with assistance from UNICEF, which made sure schools had temperature monitoring and hand-washing stations. According to an early attendance report, one school in Conakry only saw 63 of 1,300 students yesterday. The goal is for students to receive 160 of 180 days of instruction this school year.
Jan 20 World Bank press release
Jan 20 WHO Ebola update
Jan 18 WHO press release
Jan 20 UNMEER update