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Ebola economic impact in West Africa could be catastrophic: World Bank

Ebola economic impact in West Africa could be catastrophic: World Bank
Grave diggers prepare for new Ebola victims outside a treatment center near Gbarnga in central Liberia on Oct. 7. (John Moore / Getty Images)

The Ebola outbreak could be "catastrophic" to the West African economy, with an impact of $32.6 billion by the end of next year if health officials are slow to contain the spread of the deadly virus, the World Bank said in a report Wednesday.

The outbreak, which has killed 3,439 people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, already has had a "very serious" economic effect in those nations, the report said.

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If the spread of the disease is contained within about the next six months, the economic impact would be limited to about $3.8 billion in the region, the World Bank estimated.

But if health officials are slower in containing the outbreak and it spreads into nearby countries with larger economies, such as Nigeria and Senegal, the regional impact would be nearly nine times that amount -- $32.6 billion, according to the report.

"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," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement.

The World Bank has pledged $400 million in financing for countries hit by the outbreak. That includes $230 million in emergency funding. So far, Liberia has received $58 million, Sierra Leone $34 million and Guinea $25 million.

Those nations already have taken a big economic hit from the outbreak.

The World Bank estimated that Ebola will cost the Liberian economy $113 million, which is 5.1% of its total economic output, or gross domestic product.

Sierra Leone's economy has lost $95 million, or 2.1% of GDP. And Guinea has taken a $120-million hit, or 1.8% of GDP.

The economic impact to West Africa this year could be $2.2 billion if the outbreak is quickly contained or as much as $7.4 billion if it isn't, the World Bank said.

The estimates don't look at longer-term effects of the outbreak, such as the impact of school closings and the failure to treat other diseases because of the focus of health officials on Ebola, the report said.

"The international community now must act on the knowledge that weak public health infrastructure, institutions, and systems in many fragile countries are a threat not only to their own citizens but also to their trading partners and the world at large," Kim said.

"The enormous economic cost of the current outbreak to the affected countries and the world could have been avoided by prudent ongoing investment in health systems-strengthening," he said.

For breaking economic news, follow @JimPuzzanghera on Twitter

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