West Africa Ebola Outbreak 2013-2014: Disease, Treatments, and Global Impact

Jill E. Weatherhead, MD; Laila Woc-Colburn, MD


February 03, 2015

In This Article

The Global Impact of the Current Epidemic

The current EVD epidemic, Zaire Ebola strain, began in Guinea in December 2013; it progressed rapidly throughout Guinea and reached the neighboring countries Liberia and Sierra Leone in March 2014.[5,6] By August 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) Ebola Response Team declared the outbreak a "public health emergency of international concern."[5] Now, the current epidemic includes documented cases in Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Spain, and the United States.[6]

As of January 13, 2015, the prevalence of disease was 21,373 total cases and 8468 total deaths in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone alone (2825 cases and 1829 deaths in Guinea; 10,186 cases and 3083 deaths in Sierra Leone; and 8362 cases and 3556 deaths in Liberia).[7] Spread to neighboring countries has also occurred, with 20 cases and eight deaths in Nigeria, one case and no deaths in Senegal, and eight cases and six deaths in Mali.[7] According to WHO data, cases have also been imported to Spain (one case, survived), the United Kingdom (one case, survived) and four cases in the United States (one death, two imported cases, and two locally acquired cases in healthcare workers).[7]

Accurate mortality statistics have been challenging to determine, owing to geographic limitations and incomplete clinical outcomes data; however, as of September 14, 2014, case-fatality rates in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were predicted to be 70.8% and seemed to be increasing.[5] The three most severely affected countries—Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—are similar in that they have weak healthcare systems and have had recent internal conflict with prolonged instability.[4,5] This lack of infrastructure has posed challenges for these countries in controlling transmission of the virus.[5]

The current Ebola outbreak has had devastating effects on the people living in West Africa. Along with high rates of loss of human life, EVD has had both direct and indirect effects on the national economies in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, widening the economic divide between countries and pushing individuals deeper into poverty. According to the World Bank, if the outbreak continues at the current pace, the epidemic could cost the region more than $32.6 billion in 2014 and 2015. The current Ebola epidemic has left many businesses without workers, disrupted transportation of goods, and halted farming and manufacturing.

The epidemic has also had a ripple effect throughout the region, not just in countries with documented disease. Other countries have had limited trade with West Africa, and declining tourism to the entire region has produced diminishing economic return to countries without documented infection as well.[8]


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