March 4, 2015 / 1:31 AM / 5 years ago

Ebola-hit countries seek help to repair their economies

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The three West African states hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak asked for help from donors on Tuesday to repair the damage to their economies now that the epidemic seems to be waning.

Leaders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone voiced confidence at a major international conference on the Ebola outbreak in Brussels that they were winning the battle but said they must remain focused on stamping out new infections.

The epidemic has killed around 10,000 people in the three countries and delivered a severe setback to their economies, which had previously been performing well.

“Victory against the virus is in sight but we must guard against complacency. There will not be total victory until we get to a resilient zero (new cases) in the three most affected countries,” Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma told the conference.

Ebola cases have declined sharply in recent weeks, but there has been a worrying recent surge in new infections in Sierra Leone, where Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana put himself in quarantine after one of his bodyguards died of Ebola.

“It’s easier to go from 100 (cases) to 10 than from 10 to zero,” Guinea’s President Alpha Conde said.

International donors have pledged nearly $5 billion to help combat the Ebola outbreak, according to EU officials, although only about half of that has been disbursed so far.

Schools, farms and markets closed during the outbreak, casting a chill on business as investors left and government finances weakened. A fall in global commodity prices compounded the region’s problems.

The World Bank has estimated the epidemic will cost the three countries at least $1.6 billion in lost economic growth this year, or more than 12 percent of their combined output.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said the three countries believed a regional approach to recovery was best.

“This can only be achieved with your support,” she told the conference, which brought together 600 delegates from around the world.

“There is no doubt this will require significant resources, perhaps even a Marshall plan,” she said, referring to the large U.S. aid program to rebuild Europe after World War Two.

The three African nations aim to draw up a regional recovery plan to present at the April meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Johnson-Sirleaf said.

No new aid pledges were expected at the Brussels conference.

Koroma said Sierra Leone was looking for debt relief, grants and concessionary loans and was seeking support to rebuild social services and to revamp the private sector.

Editing by Gareth Jones

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