Perez, Katherine [Browse]
Senior thesis
112 pages


Mahmoud, Adel [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Between December 2013 and January 2016, the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone suffered the world’s largest and most devastating Ebola outbreak recorded in history. The epidemic claimed over 11,000 lives, infected upwards of 28,000 patients and not only spread throughout West Africa but also spread to other countries on the African continent and to Europe and North America. The 2014 Ebola outbreak was a disaster; the spread of the highly fatal virus across a wide geographic range had been unprecedented and therefore unexpected, and the global community did not intervene in the outbreak until months after its detection. This thesis addresses the question what are the consequences of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa? Through providing ample evidence of the economic and societal impacts of the epidemic, it finds that outbreaks of infectious disease have multilevel consequences beyond mortality across the economies and societies of the afflicted countries. Epidemics have the potential to devastate national economies and to exploit societal habits and are therefore urgent threats to the global community. The economic effects of the outbreak are unprecedented. Despite years of economic progress across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the 2014 outbreak not only thwarted economic growth but also backtracked this progress, as reflected through the World Bank’s revised and reduced estimates for growth projections in the three countries. Apart from affecting the national economies, the outbreak also carried with it an enormous cost: estimates by the United Nations for the cost of the outbreak are as high as US $8.9 billion. Paired with devastating economic effects, the 2014 outbreak had significant societal consequences. The virus preyed on the social structure and habits of West African society; family and community frameworks lent themselves to proliferation of transmission, and ceremonial burial and funeral practices acted as “superspreading events” for transmission of the virus. While the most devastating consequence of the epidemic was the tragic loss of thousands of lives, examining the impacts beyond mortality places further emphasis on the importance of pandemic preparedness in global health policy. Through arguing that outbreaks of infectious disease have multilevel consequences, this thesis is significant in raising the stakes of pandemic preparedness. Pandemic preparedness has the potential to avert devastating economic and societal consequences, as well as, most importantly, to save thousands of lives. Outbreaks of infectious disease are not new, and they are inevitable. The global community has an obligation to prepare for them. This thesis ends with five recommendations, framed as lessons learned from this research, for pandemic preparedness. The evidence of the multilevel devastation wrecked by outbreaks of infectious disease, presented and examined in this thesis, can no longer be ignored.

Supplementary Information