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With abundant research suggesting that diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS have a lasting socioeconomic impact, researchers investigated the effects of Ebola virus disease on households’ livelihoods and discovered that the 2014-2016 epidemic affected not only the community where the outbreaks occurred, but also communities where the virus had not been reported, according to a recent study.
“Our results highlight that epidemics, such as the recent Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak, may have long-lasting negative effects on the livelihoods of a society and their effect may extend beyond the communities directly affected by the epidemics,” Tsegaye T. Gatiso, PhD, of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, and colleagues wrote in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
In 2014, an Ebola outbreak infected more than 29,000 people in West Africa, killing 11,310. Although the outbreak ended in 2016, the effects continued, researchers said. Liberia, one of the poorest countries in Africa, had undergone one of the fastest economic growths in Africa over the course of a decade but had an economic disruption following the 2014 Ebola epidemic, leading researchers to focus on the area for the study.
They conducted a systematic nationwide household survey of homes in Liberia from February to June 2015. Using a random-walk technique, where trained Liberian enumerators started at the center of town and walked in different directions, stopping to interview five to 10 households in each location — collecting data from a total of 623 households. Head-of-households were explicitly asked to report the amount of income they obtained from different sources and the associated costs in the 12 months before the survey, as well as if they had known anyone in their own or nearby communities who had contracted EVD, and for details about their assets.
Results yielded by the interviews suggest that the EVD epidemic caused no significant difference in the annual income of households that reported Ebola in or near their community. However, researchers said that more than half the households in the sample reported that their income was lower during the Ebola epidemic than their income the previous year.
Researchers said this fluctuation may have been caused by market interruptions and price fluctuations or control measures imposed by the Liberian government in an attempt to control the disease, which affected income in homes throughout the nation, not just in the affected area.
Researchers looked at agricultural production of the households and discovered that of the farming households still working on their farm at the time of the survey, nearly 54% reported that their agricultural production decreased during the outbreak. Researchers said this reduction in production could be from closing markets, fewer middle-men purchasing the goods for sale, and less transport.
The study also revealed that households of communities where EVD cases were reported to be in or nearby had less livestock than those where there had been no EVD. Almost 47% of livestock-owning households surveyed reported that the amount of their livestock decreased during the epidemic. Researchers speculated that food shortages may have lead livestock owners to eat the animals during the outbreak.
The researchers also noted that the Ebola epidemic negatively and significantly impacted the respondents’ trust in Liberian institutions. Nearly 45% of households reporting Ebola cases nearby said their trust in the government had declined during the epidemic. Additionally, 42% of households reported that they had lost trust in their village chief.
“Our study offers important insights on the effect of the EVD epidemic on the livelihoods of Liberian society and the mechanisms underlying them,” the researchers concluded. “Post-epidemic rehabilitation should not only be limited to communities directly affected by EVD but should also target those indirectly affected by the epidemic.”
“We believe that our results could help Liberia and other countries in the developing world with similar socioeconomic conditions, as well as the international community, to be better prepared for future crises and distribute livelihood rehabilitation efforts more effectively, thereby facilitating the affected nation’s speedy recovery after such crises,” they added.
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