A top British business chief has warned that stopping flights to Ebola-hit west Africa could cripple the region’s economy.
Clive Dawson MBE, President of the British Chamber of Commerce in Sierra Leone, said that countries there could lose $32billion by 2015 if airlines are not allowed in.
Mr Dawson, who is also Chair of the Ebola Private Sector Mobilisation Group SL (EPSMG), added that hundreds of millions had already been lost.
‘The World Bank warns that Ebola could cost the West African economy US$32 billion by 2015.
‘The Bank estimates the Liberian economy to have declined by US$113m in 2014 as a result of the crisis; Sierra Leone by US$95m; and Guinea by US$120m.’
The EPSMG is calling for restrictions to be relaxed on flights in the region hit by the killer bug, with greater care taken to stop the spread of the disease.
A spokesman said: ‘ Business is the lifeblood of these economies – particularly the mining sector, which has grown rapidly in recent years as a result of foreign investment – and keeping these businesses open is key to lessening the blow of Ebola on already fragile markets. Concern amongst expatriate employees with respect to the uncertainty surrounding transport back to their home countries means companies risk losing the staff needed to continue operations, with any reduction likely to have a direct impact on the local workforce, communities and economies.
‘This uncertainty is being fuelled by several factors, including a lack of formal policies in respect of medical evacuations for employees by their governments and the suspension by African and European carriers of commercial flights – most recently the UK’s withdrawal of Gambia Bird’s permit to fly to Sierra Leone direct from the UK.The ban on Gambia Bird came despite Sierra Leone’s authorities implementing strict exit-screening processes in accordance with Centre for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. Furthermore, the UK Government’s policy of screening passengers coming by indirect methods is far less efficient or effective than the ability to track and monitor passengers arriving directly.
‘The EPSMG is convinced that safe but easy access to affected countries is critical to combatting Ebola and its effects, with routes kept open, which when combined with current stringent screening measures will make the associated risk extremely minimal. It is asking that commercial airlines be allowed to fly directly to and from affected areas; for clarification from UK authorities on recent discussions with such airlines to reinstate flights and that third party service providers be encouraged to assist in the evacuations of people with symptoms suspected to be Ebola.’
The group backed claims by the World Health Organisation and other aid agencies that preventing health professionals from entering the region would cost lives.
EPSMG Secretary Whitsun Ade-Cole said: ”The effects of the Ebola outbreak would have been worse were it not for the ability of healthcare professionals to travel to and from affected countries.
”Combatting the economic effects of the disease will need this ability to be extended to those maintaining the operational capacity of some of the region’s largest employers and contributors to national economies.”