The Economic Case for Wiping Out Ebola
Monday, August 25, 2014
On Aug. 22, the World Health Organization announced a draft strategy to combat the West African Ebola outbreak over the next six to nine months. That’s a sign that the global health body isn’t optimistic about a rapid end to an epidemic that has killed around 1,300 people so far. An extended outbreak of such a feared disease would have mounting economic costs: Already quarantines and concerns for worker safety have delayed mining projects and slowed rubber and palm oil output in Liberia, as well as cocoa, peanut, and rice production in Sierra Leone. Ebola helps illustrate the economic burden of infectious disease—particularly on countries in the developing world, but with affects felt worldwide. All of which suggests why increased support to fight infection in developing countries would have considerable global economic benefit.
Numerous studies have explored the social and economic impacts of infectious diseases. The University of Chicago’s Hoyt Bleakley examined the affect of the 1920s malaria eradication campaign in the U.S. as well as campaigns in South American countries in the 1950s. He looked at people born in areas particularly susceptible to malaria compared with people from other areas before and after the eradication efforts, and the impact of the campaign on their relative income and education levels. Bleakley found that higher malaria rates in the U.S. South before the 1920s accounted for somewhere around 10 percent of the income gap with the North. In Latin America, children born in areas of naturally high malaria prevalence after the antimalaria campaign earned approximately 25 percent more as adults than they would have absent the program.