By DEB RIECHMANN
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The economic impact of the Ebola epidemic could reach $32.6 billion by the end of next year if the disease ravaging Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone spreads to neighboring countries in West Africa, the World Bank Group said Wednesday.
The World Bank’s assessment said the economic impact of Ebola is already serious in the three countries and could be catastrophic if it becomes a more regional health crisis.
“With Ebola’s potential to inflict massive economic costs on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and the rest of their neighbors in West Africa, the international community must find ways to get past logistical roadblocks and bring in more doctors and trained medical staff, more hospital beds and more health and development support to help stop Ebola in its tracks,” said Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank.
He added that the enormous economic cost of the current outbreak to the affected countries and the world “could have been avoided by prudent ongoing investment in strengthening health care systems.”
It is far from certain that the epidemic will be contained by the end of the year, so the report estimated the economic costs of two scenarios as the battle against the disease continues. The report estimated that the economic impact could top $9 billion if the disease is rapidly contained in the three most severely affected countries, but could reach $32.6 billion if it takes a long time to contain Ebola in the three countries and it spreads to neighboring nations.
The economic impact could be limited if immediate national and international action stops the epidemic and alleviates the fear factor, the report said. Fear about the disease is causing neighboring countries to close their borders and airlines and businesses to suspend their commercial activities in the three worst-affected countries.
The World Health Organization estimates that Ebola has killed more than 3,400 people in West Africa and infected at least twice that many.