Kenema Government Hospital, Sierra Leone

Here’s How Much It Will Cost to Stop Ebola

The USA is dramatically scaling up its efforts to help countries in West Africa deal with an ebola outbreak that is spiraling out of control. In a speech at the US Centers for Disease Control today, President Obama is expected to discuss details of this strategy, which includes the deployment of up to 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to set up mobile clinics and help distribute protective equipment to the homes of hundreds of thousands of Liberians.

It’s a big effort. It is also a monumental shift in American strategy for dealing with this outbreak. But is it enough?

In Geneva today, the World Health Organization and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), released its first ever system-wide needs assessment that systematically details the financial requirements for stopping the outbreak. (This is a typical exercise for the UN. When disaster strikes, OCHA will estimate things like the number of tents and food rations required to keep the affected population alive during the response and recovery period. It compiles all this data and releases what’s called a humanitarian appeal, against which donors can contribute.)

So how much money do humanitarian agencies need to stop ebola in its tracks?  Nearly $1 billion — or $987.8 million to be precise. This includes $189 million to identify and trace people with ebola; $330 million for treatment of people with the disease; $40 million for equipment; $20 million for fuel; $2.5 million in cash incentives for healthcare workers; and $23 million for “safe and dignified burials” to prevent a key point of transmission for the virus, among other expenses.

As far as humanitarian appeals go, this appeal is very large. In terms of funding requirements, the only currently larger appeals are the man made disasters in Syria and South Sudan.

To date, donors have only contributed $150 million to ebola response. This leaves a huge gap that the international community needs to urgently fill. The announcement by the White House of additional funds to support the international response will help–and the USA is already the single largest financial contributor to the international ebola response. But other countries will need to step up if this funding gap is to be filled.

Funding is the most important metric against which to measure whether or not the international community is mobilizing sufficiently to respond to this crisis. If that $987.8 million is raised, this crisis will be brought under control, and stability would be restored to fragile post conflict countries in West Africa. If donors pony up much less than that, this outbreak will at best fester and at worst metastasize in the months to come.