In a recently-published article in Pathogens and Global Health, public health economics experts from John Hopkins University make the first attempt at accurately quantifying the total costs of an Ebola case, suggesting that the current epidemic in three of the worst-hit African countries has, to date, cost over US$82 million, and possibly much more.
As the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa continues to grow, an unanswered question is what is the cost of a case of Ebola? Sarah M Bartsch, Katie Gorham and Bruce Y Lee of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, developed a mathematical model to estimate 'The cost of an Ebola case' from provider and societal perspectives in the three most affected countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
In their study, the authors took into account the costs of supportive care (based on symptoms), personal protective equipment, personnel wages, and productivity losses for absenteeism and mortality. Their model estimates that the total societal cost of an Ebola case with full recovery ranges from $480 to $912, varying by age and country, while that of an Ebola death ranges from $5,929 to almost $19,000, due in a large part to the loss of productivity that results from a death. They concluded that, as of 10 December 2014, the estimated total societal costs of all reported Ebola cases in these three countries range from $82M to potentially over $356 million.
In the article, the authors discuss how this compares with the cost of other disease outbreaks, such as measles, cholera, malaria and meningococcal meningitis, and whether an Ebola case has more impact than a case of these other diseases. Understanding the cost of a single disease case is critical to efficiently developing strategies to prevent or mitigate the effects of future cases and outbreaks - not only budgeting and planning for future epidemics, but also individual cases and periodic smaller outbreaks.
This research is critical to understanding how the current epidemic undermines the resilience of already fragile health responses to other diseases. In this context, and in the near future, it will be of great value to review the incidence of infectious diseases in this region. The research suggests far-reaching and long-term effects on health systems in the region, and in a Western context, it helps plan budgeting for the significant aid that may be required to assist these countries. In the context of Ebola and other epidemic outbreaks, this research has significant implications for enabling decision makers to plan more effectively and budget for responses, policies, treatments, surveillance, and other interventions for the Ebola virus disease - which are being rapidly developed in response to the current situation in West Africa.