Citing overlooked social, economic, health impacts, study estimates West Africa Ebola outbreak costs at more than $53 billion

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Estimate exceeds previous estimates by more than $20 billion

Deaths from non-Ebola causes contributed to highest West Africa outbreak costs, authors say

During the 2013 to 2016 spread of Ebola across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as health systems and health workers were overtaken by the impacts of the virus, about a million fewer children in the affected areas were vaccinated against measles who otherwise would have been — leading to the possibility of from 2,000 to 16,000 additional measles-related deaths in the years to come. From 600,000 to 700,000 children went without other routine vaccinations in the area — including against whooping cough, tuberculosis, polio and diphtheria. Immediate impacts of the diversion of health resources include more than 10,000 additional deaths from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria between March 2014 and March 2015, alone. At one teaching hospital in Sierra Leone, the deaths of eight surgeons from Ebola led to a 97 percent cutback in surgeries and post-surgical care.

The costs of those suspended health services in deaths and lasting health impacts are among the costs that have been underestimated or omitted in previous estimates of the price tag for the Ebola crisis that had exploded across three countries before the world took notice, authors of a report in The Journal of Infectious Diseases write. Reviewing reports from government agencies, nongovernment and nonprofit organizations and industry, as well as earlier estimates, the authors sought to identify costs missed by other accountings to determine the overall global costs of the unprecedented outbreak.

In addition to the costs of survivors’ care, and of their lost productivity while being treated (at costs of from $480 to $912 each adding up to a total of about $12 million) they note the costs of long term after-effects of the virus among the 17,000 who survived.

They also extrapolated known costs — from the $54 million spent to establish Ebola Treatment units in the United States, likely, they write, to have been duplicated in countries around the world — to the cost of screening measures at Newark International Airport ($2.6 million) also likely to have been incurred at major airports around the country and around the world.

The highest costs, they write, were paid and continue to be paid by the three most affected countries. The largest single factor of the costs — adding up to an estimated $18 billion — are non-Ebola deaths — those caused by the impacts of the outbreak, but not by the virus itself.

And they conclude, more impacts of the outbreak, during which 17,300 children lost one or both parents, when schools serving 4.7 million children closed for about eight months, remain to be discovered.

The authors of the article, The Economic and Social Burden of the 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa, led by Caroline Huber of Precision Health Economics, write that the research aimed to more accurately assess the value of preventive and supportive interventions that reduce the toll of future outbreaks.

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