Economic Impact Of Ebola Crisis Spreads Across Africa

Ebola has exposed weaknesses in Africa's health networks and a failure to work together to arrest the spread of the virus. The "not our problem" response is taking an economic toll on the continent.

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We begin this hour with two reports on the impact of the Ebola outbreak on health workers, who are critical for both treatment and research.

And first, the impact on economic activity - in countries dealing with Ebola, military roadblocks set up to stop the virus are also stopping trade. Farm products are left to rot in abandoned fields and neighboring countries have shut down air routes and land routes, preventing cargo from moving out and delaying medical supplies from moving in.

As NPR's Gregory Warner reports, the economic impact of Ebola can be felt throughout the continent.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: On a morning drive past the tropically manicured corporate parks and billboards for imported scotch in Nairobi, Kenya, you could almost forget there is such a thing as Ebola. The rampage of the deadly virus, thousands of miles to the northwest, has moved off the front pages of local newspapers ever since the national carrier, Kenya Airways, canceled flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Now, the logic driving the suspension of those flights has surprisingly little to do with advice from the WHO. It says that properly screening passengers when they disembark is enough of a precaution. It has more to do with the kind of pervasive distrust. Kenyans don't believe that their national health system could contain the virus if it arrived here. The Kenyan government doesn't seem to put much faith in Liberian border controls.

I went to meet Konstantin Makarov, managing director of StratLink Africa, the continental branch of the global financial advisory firm. And he says the Ebola virus has awakened old distrust throughout the African content.

KONSTANTIN MAKAROV: If you go to Zambia right now, they'll specifically say, if you've been to Ebola-prone areas you will not be given a visa. So they will literally make you - either quarantine you, or make you get back on the plane.

WARNER: Among Makarov's clients are big investors in the West who are ready to place their bets on Africa's rise, but the reality of a rising Africa hinges as much on expanding trade between African countries as making sweet deals with the West or with China.

Zemedeneh Negatu is a managing partner for the accounting firm Ernst and Young in Ethiopia. He says that just as with the Asian tiger economies, African nations have to trade more with each other to grow economically.

ZEMEDENEH NEGATU: But if this is the reaction we have when we have one outbreak, then how are we going to continue to be Pan-Africanist? How are we going to be saying, well, we're going to grow together as Africa? I mean, this Ebola, to me shows the fault line between the talk and the reality of some of the things we're trying to do in Africa.

WARNER: Next week the African Union is convening an emergency meeting of the continent's foreign ministers. They'll be trying to find ways to reopen land borders and maybe get airlines flying again to Ebola-affected countries.

AU Commissioner of Social Affairs, Dr. Mustapha Kaloko, told me that canceled flights are worsening the crisis.

MUSTAPHA KALOKO: If anything, they are hampering the efforts of humanitarian teams on the ground and they're in fact imposing a lot of very serious economic problems for the countries and they're concerned.

WARNER: The irony is that Africa's Not In My Backyard approach to Ebola, though not at all advised by international health organizations, might have helped some tourism economies far from the epidemic. Perhaps it's prevented more jittery visitors from canceling their safaris or business conferences. The broader issue for Africa though, is investment. If next week's gathering of ministers can't find some way around the economic quarantines that African nations are imposing on each other, they might find more Western investors ready to draw a red line around them.

Gregory Warner. NPR News, Nairobi.

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