Leaders of the three hardest-hit countries in West Africa issued a plea for help battling Ebola at a high-level meeting on the crisis Thursday on the eve of the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings.
“Our people are dying,” said Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, joining the meeting from Sierra Leone via videoconference. He said Ebola has touched nearly every facet of life and sector of the economy. Since the virus first appeared in April, it has infected more than 2,500, leaving 530 survivors, he said.
“This roundtable is very important to us … without you we cannot succeed,” said Koroma.
Ebola has infected more than 8,000 people in West Africa and claimed more than 3,879 lives, and the epidemic continues to spread rapidly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The leaders of those countries said Ebola has severely taxed their health systems and is eroding hard-won economic growth and social progress.
Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said Liberia had made “unmistakable progress” on growth, investment, infrastructure, women’s empowerment, malaria, and child mortality when Ebola hit in March.
“Our development agenda has been interrupted by the Ebola outbreak,” she said. “With limited understanding of the disease, low human capacity, and a slow international response, the disease quickly outpaced our ability to contain it.”
“This is an international threat that deserves an international response,” said Guinea President Alpha Condé.
The World Bank Group called the high-level meeting to discuss critical issues, needs, and possible solutions to the crisis, and rally support from the international community and partner countries for accelerating an end to the epidemic.
“Unless we quickly contain and stop this Ebola epidemic, nothing less than the future of Africa is at stake,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim told ministers of finance and other representatives from more than 20 countries, along with international aid and health organizations.
The World Bank Group released a report this week that estimated the economic cost of the epidemic could reach $32.6 billion in two years if it is not quickly contained and if it significantly infects people in other countries. The Bank Group has mobilized a $400 million financing package to help the three countries hardest hit by the epidemic; $117 million is already with the countries, including $58 million for Liberia, $34 million for Sierra Leone, and $25 million for Guinea.
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde urged all international institutions and bilateral donors to “rally around these three countries to help them fight the crisis.” The IMF has committed $130 million to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and stands ready to do more, she said. “The IMF does not say this very often: It’s good to increase the fiscal deficit” in this situation, said Lagarde.
“West Africans are scared. They need our urgent help. That’s why we’re here,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He convened a high-level meeting with President Obama and other leaders during the UN General Assembly in late September. “We need 20-fold speed and resource mobilization.”
Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization’s assistant director-general for emergencies, said “we must get to a common purpose very, very quickly” and proposed that the international community commit to three numbers: 70% safe burials, 70% case isolation within 60 days.
Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the three West African countries need laboratories, trained public health staff, tracking systems, emergency response, and infection control. He said support is especially needed at the local level. “That’s where the battle will be fought and that’s where it will be won.”