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As the Ebola Crisis Eases, What’s Next in West Africa?

John is a five-year-old orphan who lost both of his parents to Ebola. Photo credit: Path International/Neil Brandvold

U.S. troops aiding the Ebola emergency in Liberia are leaving. In that country, the number of new cases of Ebola has dropped from 1,000 a week, when the crisis was at its peak, to around a dozen a week today. But in Sierra Leone and Guinea, the World Health Organization reports that there are about 150 new Ebola cases a week and that there has been a slight uptick recently.

Although health officials are optimistic that the epidemic will be contained in 2015 with continued diligence, the crisis is far from over. Ebola will be an economic concern long after its health effects have disappeared. The World Bank says Ebola will cost the three most-effected countries at least $1.6 million in lost economic growth.

Everyday citizens in the region are already feeling the economic consequences. Food costs have risen—leaving many families without adequate nutrition. Tourism, agriculture and small businesses have all been affected. Schools closed during the height of the epidemic, and many children may not return because they will have to work to help their families survive.

What now?

Longer-term recovery will need to focus on Ebola orphans, strengthening health systems, providing economic opportunities for poor families and planning for economic recovery, including restoring trade in the region.

Aid for Africa members and others are working in all these areas.

The BBC reports that some 10,000 children have lost their parents to Ebola. Many of these children are Ebola survivors, and most have been exiled by their home communities. Orphans and their extended families and communities need support. Helping Children Worldwide, an Aid for Africa member working in Bo, Sierra Leone, a hot spot of the Ebola outbreak, is strengthening and expanding its support of orphans and those affected by Ebola.

According to Sierra Leone’s agriculture minister, the economy of Sierra Leone has been deflated by 30 percent because of the disease. Aid for Africa member World Hope International is ramping up its innovative farmer “affordable greenhouses” partnership. Greenhouses provide a controlled environment for agriculture, reduce water consumption and ensure crop production despite seasonal fluctuations in weather.

Years of civil war in Sierra Leone and Liberia inhibited the building of robust healthcare systems and contributed to the spread of the Ebola virus. Strengthening health facilities and increasing the number of trained health care providers will be vital to containing the Ebola virus and mitigating the effects of future health emergencies. Last Mile Health, an innovative Boston-based charity, has been working to create a corps of professionalized, community-based health workers who provide health care in remote villages.

Although the containment of the Ebola crisis in West Africa appears likely, the critical work to ensure sustainable healthcare and economic stability is just getting started.

Read: Fighting Ebola Through Local Networks and Know-how