The health implications of the Ebola Virus Disease, EVD, on West African countries affected by it are already known. With shambolic healthcare infrastructure, countries in the sub-region will be stretched to the maximum should the direct risk of person to person infection (still very low) increases. But the yet unrecognised implication of the Ebola outbreak for West Africa is that families of diplomats, missionaries or businessmen are leaving the sub-region- either by choice or on the advice of the various home countries. And should they not return, there are concerns that their departure could paralyse economic activities in West African countries.
“The health situation in terms of direct risk of infection [for the average person] is really not that bad, but its effects are immense,” says Jeff Trudeau, Director of The American International School of Monrovia told TIME. The school has already lost well over half of its expected students for the start of the 2014 school year and has delayed its start date to October. Currently, Trudeau is only 50% confident the school will open in October.
The Liberian government has already closed all public schools. Private schools, which enjoy greater freedom from government regulations are not affected by the closure. Some of them remain open. But even if The American International School's authorities want it opened now, they cannot get enough students to fill the classrooms. The school and other similar international schools in West Africa cater to kids from countries with specific educational standards, usually children of missionary families, diplomats, and international businesses. Last year, 16 embassies were represented at the international school in Liberia.
School closures have adverse effects on children's education, but in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, have implications even beyond education. Trudeau Liberia has greatly improved in terms of economy and industry in the last few years. Two years ago, The American International School had 70 students, but was expecting 150 as its resumption date for this year approached. Trudeau says his school has also lost 20% of its teachers.
“Liberia entered a period of prosperity, and we grew last year. It’s reflective of how things improved security-wise and economically. Parents felt comfortable bringing their kids to Liberia,” said Trudeau.
He explained that if the school cannot open in October and doesn’t open until, say, January, they will probably have fewer than 50 students. The other students will, by that time, likely have enrolled in other schools in their home countries or elsewhere.
Other schools funded by the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone and Guinea are also wobbling. The American International school in Sierra Leone remains closed. Though the one in Guinea is open, it has only 50 students, 50% reduction in their expected class.
Following the Ebola outbreak, kids have been left without parents and people are dying of otherwise preventable diseases due to lack of medical attention, according to Doctors Without Borders.
So far, Ebola has infected 2,615, killing 1,427. But its legacy will extend from cleaning up to regaining the momentum of progress the countries in the sub-region have made in the last few years.
“There are three things a country needs to be successful: security, health care and education. Education is our direct responsibility. If we can attract top-quality people to return to Liberia, we can help them rebuild and restore. Unfortunately, without health care, you can see how quickly this is lost. No matter how well you’ve done in security and education, without health care, it doesn’t work,” said Trudeau.