As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa wanes, nations devastated by the virus are pushing for a long-term response centered on economic recovery.
On Tuesday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called for an Ebola "Marshall Plan" to help rebuild the region’s fragile economies and for "international partners to remain committed" to bringing an end to the epidemic, The Associated Press reports.
"The most important long-term response to Ebola rests on plans and strategies for economic recovery," the president told fellow regional leaders and delegates at an international conference on Ebola in Brussels. “This will require significant resources, perhaps even a Marshall Plan," she added, referring to the massive United States aid program that helped Europe rebuild after World War II.
Almost 10,000 people have died from the Ebola virus, the vast majority in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization.
Since it began nearly a year ago, the outbreak has undermined the three countries' already fragile economies and exacerbated many of their pre-existing challenges. With a combined GDP of $13.9 billion in 2013, the impoverished nations have long suffered from a lack of infrastructure, health care, and economic development. Their combined GDP is smaller than Vermont – at $29.9 billion – the US state with the smallest GDP.
Ana Revenga, senior director for poverty at the World Bank, said in a statement that Ebola’s “socio-economic side effects put the current and future prosperity of households at high risk” in Liberia.
“We must pay careful attention to those who are most vulnerable to both health and economic shocks, and ensure that they are supported throughout and after the crisis,” she added.
The BBC reports that despite continued attention from the international community, Ebola efforts are in danger of facing donor fatigue. While the focus remains on eradication, President Johnson and other regional leaders have started to emphasize the need for long-term international support.
Strengthening health-care systems across the region has emerged as one of their top priorities. Already scarce resources have had to be directed to controlling the epidemic, making it harder to get treatment for other diseases such as malaria and pneumonia that are blamed for the deaths of thousands of children in the developing world every day.
A report released Tuesday by Save the Children reinforces the case for investing in health care. The report found that global efforts to combat Ebola have cost $4.3 billion, more than twice as much as the $1.58 billion it would take to improve the health-care systems in the three most affected countries.
“The world woke up to Ebola, but now people need to wake up to the scandal of weak health systems,” Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children USA, said in a statement.
About $4.9 billion has been pledged internationally to fight Ebola in West Africa, but only around $2.4 billion has actually been disbursed, according to the AP.
The number of new cases of Ebola has dropped to about 100 per week, down from 800 to 900 at the height of the outbreak in August and September. But experts and officials warn that eradicating the last cases still poses a huge challenge.