Groups announce funds to boost Ebola-hit economies, vaccine delivery

The economies of the three hardest-hit Ebola outbreak countries as well as Ebola vaccine developers will receive financial lifts from two different groups, with at least $450 million from a private-sector group affiliate of the World Bank backing the first initiative and $350 million from the European Union (EU) and pharmaceutical industry partners backing the second.

Help for weakened economies

The announcement of a boost for the outbreak countries' economies came on the same day that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released a study showing that the epidemic is choking off revenues, increasing debt and making Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone more dependent on foreign aid.

A $450 million package from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a development institution member of the World Bank, is targeted toward trade, investment, and employment in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, according to a statement yesterday from the IFC. Of that total, $250 million is for rapid-response projects and at least $200 million is geared toward investment projects to support economic recovery after the epidemic.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said in a statement, "Ebola is a humanitarian crisis first and foremost, but it's also an economic disaster for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. That's why in addition to our emergency aid we will do all we can to help support the private sector in these countries to build back their businesses." He also said the outbreak has the potential to do long-term harm to businesses at the global level but especially to the three worst-affected countries.

Yesterday's announcement brings the amount brought together by the World Bank for West Africa's outbreak region to nearly $1 billion. Of the previously committed $500 million announced in August and October, $117 million has already been disbursed, according to the IFC.

The UNDP report says that the three countries have a shortfall of $328 million to operate at pre-outbreak levels, with gaps related to increased spending on the response and the slowdown of economic activities such as tourism, mining, and trade. The outbreak has raised government expenses by 30%, pushing deficits higher.

For example, fruit and vegetable exports in northwestern Guinea have fallen 90%. The service industry had been hit hard as well: In Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital, outbreak activity has shuttered nearly all bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. Job losses due to the hurting economies over the past 6 months have reduced household incomes by 35% in Liberia, 30% in Sierra Leone, and 13% in Guinea.

Over the past decade, the rates of economic growth had been rising by 2.8%, 10%, and 8% in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, respectively, the UNDP study said.

EU partners give boost to Ebola vaccination

The Ebola vaccine-funding announcement came today from the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) as it launched its "Ebola+ program." IMI put out a $350 million request for proposals and called for research collaboration between pharmaceutical companies, universities, small biotechnology companies, regulators, and other groups.

The first projects are expected to begin in early 2015, covering Ebola vaccine trials, the scale-up of manufacturing capacity, vaccine transport and storage, ways to boost vaccine compliance (since two doses of vaccine may be needed), and rapid diagnostic tests.

Richard Bergstrom, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, said in a statement, "The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa brings with it unprecedented challenges for patients and the healthcare system. This complex fight requires close collaboration and engagement from multiple stakeholders."

Other developments

  • Doctors without Borders (MSF) said yesterday it has distributed 50,000 home care kits in Liberia since September, with a goal of getting 70,000 of them to families. Designed to protect people if a family member gets sick, the kits contain items such as chlorine, soap, and protective gear. MSF workers explain to the public that the kits aren't intended to provide medical care but are to be used in an emergency situation when someone gets sick or to disinfect a home after someone dies. MSF said the kits are an imperfect solution but that they are needed to slow transmission in homes, given a weak international response that has left gaps in key areas. For example, it said the ambulance system in Monrovia can't keep up and taxi drivers often refuse to drive passengers who are showing symptoms. It said contact tracing needs to be systematically implemented and that "body management" is still a problem.

  • Facebook today announced three initiatives to address the Ebola outbreak. They include a feature allowing users to easily donate to 1 of 3 international relief groups working in the outbreak area, health education from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) targeting users in various regions, and a plan to improve emergency voice and data services for aid workers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

  • Duke University Hospital said yesterday that final tests are negative for Ebola on a patient with a travel history to West Africa who reported a fever. The patient was transported to the facility on Nov 2. A preliminary test the next day was also negative. It said the patient will be discharged and monitored for the rest of the 21 days since arriving from West Africa.

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) today welcomed Switzerland's approval of a second Ebola vaccine trial. The trial will be led by researchers at the University Hospitals of Geneva and involve 115 volunteers. It will assess the experimental vaccine VSV-ZEBOB, developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

  • The WHO also noted Australia's recent announcement that they will send health workers and funding to help battle the disease in West Africa. Australian staff will help make up some of the treatment bed shortfall in Sierra Leone, which WHO said will need 1,864 beds by Dec 1. Treatment beds are the key to getting infected people out of the community, and over the whole outbreak region, only 22% of the needed 4,707 treatment beds are operational. The WHO said the biggest obstacle to opening more treatment beds is the availability of trained medical staff.

See also:

Nov 5 UNDP report

Nov 5 IFC press release

Nov 5 Reuters story on IFC

Nov 6 IMI press release

Nov 5 MSF report

Nov 6 Facebook announcement

Nov 5 Duke Medicine statement

Nov 6 WHO announcement on Swiss vaccine trial

Nov 6 WHO announcement on Australia's Ebola commitments

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