Today is cause for celebration in the fight against Ebola here in Sierra Leone: the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared our country Ebola free.
The outbreak killed at least 3,500 people in Sierra Leone – and as many as 11,300 if you include Liberia and Guinea.
The total number of reported cases is more than 25,000, according to the WHO, but all these figures are likely to be under-estimates given the difficulty of collecting data.
The unprecedented outbreak of Ebola created a devastating social and humanitarian crisis in Sierra Leone, weakened our economy and reversed the impressive growth trajectory of recent years.
In the four years before the outbreak, Sierra Leone’s GDP outperformed the pan-African average year-on-year, placing the country among the top twenty economies in the world.
However, Ebola disrupted key economic sectors – such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing, construction, transport, trade and tourism – lowering GDP growth from the pre-Ebola level of 11.3 per cent to 6 per cent in 2014.
“Sierra Leone needs the help of private investors and business”
So the announcement from the WHO is welcome news for all Sierra Leoneans and for the economy, but the challenge does not end here.
The impact on families and communities will be felt for years to come, and things will not go back to the way they were overnight. Now, more than ever, Sierra Leone needs the help of private investors and business.
A recent Investor Guide we sponsored with Herbert Smith Freehills and Prudential encouraged investors to look beyond the short-term difficulties to consider the long-term potential of the economy, particularly in under-invested sectors such as energy, mining, petroleum, agriculture and infrastructure.
“Our economy is expected to grow by 8 per cent in 2016”
Despite the effects of Ebola, Sierra Leone still offers huge potential. Our economy is expected to grow by 8 per cent in 2016 and 9 per cent in 2017, according to Standard Chartered’s economists.
Initiatives such as our partnership with CDC Group to support lending of up to USD50 million to businesses in Sierra Leone is a step in the right direction, and more initiatives like this could be hugely transformative for the country.
Sierra Leone’s Ebola crisis has come to an end. However, the battle is not over. In May, Liberia was declared Ebola free, only for new cases to reappear just two months later. We should be on our guard for a re-emergence of cases – and in some ways, the hard work on recovery is only just beginning.
Sierra Leone was subject of huge international attention during the Ebola outbreak – now that we are free of Ebola, our country should not be forgotten.
Instead, as we celebrate today, we need global attention to turn to a positive focus on recovery and the bright economic future that Sierra Leone deserves.