MEDICAL AID: Health workers remove the body of a man believed to have died from the Ebola virus at a street in Monrovia, Liberia, on October 27 2014. Picture: REUTERS
Health workers remove the body of a man believed to have died from the Ebola virus at a street in Monrovia, Liberia, on October 27 2014. Picture: REUTERS

"EBOLA was like a war in our countries," Guinea’s President Alpha Condé told the World Bank last year as he outlined the havoc that had been wrought by the rapid spread of the virus in the West African country.

At a meeting last April to seek funds for reconstruction, he was joined by the presidents of the other two worst-affected nations — Liberia and Sierra Leone. The leaders, who had been battling the spread of the virus for more than a year by then, outlined the devastating effect the health crisis had on their countries.

In addition to more than 11,000 deaths, health systems collapsed, expatriate managers and contractors fled, agriculture almost collapsed, trade dried up, international travel connections were cut and revenues shrunk. Fear and superstition pervaded communities.

Dire predictions of the spread of the virus across the region were made by experts, with the World Bank suggesting the financial impact on the region by the end of last year might be a huge $32.6bn. But last week, there was some good news — Guinea was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation, the last of the three countries at the epicentre of the disaster to be cleared. The last known case there was on November 16. The announcement was made 42 days later — twice the virus’s maximum incubation period. Sierra Leone was declared virus-free earlier in November.

Although the first case of Ebola emerged in Guinea, fewer people died there, with 2,500 casualties compared to 9,000 in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone. Dozens of health workers also lost their lives elsewhere in Africa and on other continents. Guinea is now undergoing a 90-day period of "heightened surveillance" to ensure vigilance is maintained after the hard-won battle. Liberia, for example, found new cases after the country was twice declared Ebola-free. But, critically, Guinea and the other two nations can now start implementing Ebola-recovery programmes.

The effect on growth has been catastrophic. According to the International Monetary Fund, Liberia’s economic growth in 2014 was 0.7%, significantly less than 2013’s 8.9%. Growth in Guinea has stagnated at about 0.4%, while Sierra Leone is facing severe recession.

The World Bank estimates the regional economic effect to be $1.6bn over 2014-15. Economic recovery is being boosted by generous financial support from international organisations, donors and governments. The World Bank has mobilised $1.6bn. The African Development Bank has stepped in and China and Germany are among those that have promised funds and private investment.

The financial packages are mostly targeted at key interventions — agriculture, construction of transport infrastructure, rebuilding of health systems and skills development. But tragically, the expected resumption of mining — the lifeblood of these tiny economies — is not happening. The price of iron ore, a key resource in all three states, dropped to seven-year lows last year as demand from China dropped.

ArcelorMittal is to cut 450 jobs in Liberia amid declining profits. Two former mining giants in Sierra Leone — African Minerals and London Mining — have gone into administration and thousands of jobs and significant tax revenues have been lost. Consumption levels have dropped considerably, making these countries less attractive for investors in consumer goods and services.

On the positive side, the growth forecast for the broader Economic Community of West African States region is positive — 7% for the coming year. Ebola’s effect has been minimal because the three worst-affected countries comprise less than 2% of regional gross domestic product. The Ebola story shows just how vulnerable Africa’s economies still are to shocks. High growth rates in Africa, celebrated by many analysts and governments, have done little to increase resilience.

Many battles have been won in Africa’s economies, but the war on underdevelopment is far from over.

• Games is CEO of business advisory Africa @ Work