Following on the heels of calls for debt cancellation of Ebola affected countries in West Africa, former Regional Director (Africa) of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Mr. Bunmi Makinwa, described the call as welcome and proper, but was quick to elaborate that Ebola is just one of the serious symptoms affecting these countries, which are unlikely to go away even if the deadly virus stops.

Recently, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Mr. Carlos Lopes, called on the international community to consider debt cancellation for Ebola-affected countries, saying this would create the right conditions for recovery in their post-crisis phase. Also, the number of people facing food insecurity due to the epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone could top one million by March 2015 unless access to food is drastically improved and measures are put in place to safeguard crop and livestock production, two UN agencies warned.

The disease’s impact is potentially devastating in the three countries already coping with chronic food insecurity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in three-country reports published in December. Border closures, quarantines, hunting bans and other restrictions are seriously hindering people’s access to food, threatening their livelihoods, disrupting food markets and processing chains, and exacerbating shortages stemming from crop losses in areas with the highest Ebola infection rates, the FAO-WFP reports stressed.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was first reported in March 2014, and has rapidly become the deadliest occurrence of the disease since its discovery in 1976. In fact, the current epidemic sweeping across the region has now killed more than all other known Ebola outbreaks combined. Up to Friday, January 9, 8,274 people had been reported as having died from the disease in six countries; Liberia (3,496), Guinea (2,977), Sierra Leone (1,786), Nigeria (8), Mali (6) and the US (1). The total number of reported cases is almost 21,000. Curiously, the World Health Organization (WHO) admits the figures are underestimates, given the difficulty collecting the data. WHO officials reportedly discovered scores of bodies in a remote diamond-mining area of Sierra Leone on Wednesday, raising fears that the scale of the Ebola outbreak may have been underreported.

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