Agricultural trade in Sierra Leone recovers and health-seeking behaviour in Liberia remains robust following the Ebola outbreak, show two new bulletins from the International Growth Centre

Two new bulletins published by the International Growth Centre show that food security in Sierra Leone, and the number of people seeking healthcare in Liberia, remain at close to normal levels in spite of the Ebola outbreak.

In contradiction to the assumptions made by the global health community, IGC funded researchers Karen A. Grépin and Rumi Chunara polled 7,500 Liberians via SMS and found that while general awareness of the Ebola disease is high, there is little evidence that Ebola has discouraged survey respondents from seeking treatment for health problems not related to the disease.

According to the research, 15% of surveyed households reported having at least one member that had been too sick to go to work or school in the previous 30 days. Of these, 94% sought care outside of their home, 45% visited government healthcare facilities, and 33% visited private healthcare facilities.

Across Liberia, the number of births in health facilities has remained reasonably constant throughout the outbreak. Even at the peak of the epidemic, the number of babies delivered in health facilities declined only slightly, and remained above 75% in all of the 15 districts surveyed.

Karen A. Grépin, Assistant Professor of Global Health Policy at New York University, said: “The finding that health-seeking behaviour has remained consistent at least among some portion of the population suggests that the health system is more resilient that many people believe. Understanding this resilience will be key for recovery and in planning for future health epidemics.”

Another bulletin, focusing on Sierra Leone and authored by Rachel Glennerster and Tavneet Suri, finds that food security and agricultural trade has returned to normal seasonal levels across most of the country.

Market closures have declined since a peak in October 2014, and the number of traders for local and imported rice is now similar to numbers in previous years. However, the prices for domestic and imported rice remain lower than in 2012. The price of imported rice is 8% lower than in 2012 and the price gap is larger in districts previously cordoned due to the Ebola outbreak.

Rachel Glennerster, Lead Academic for IGC Sierra Leone and Executive Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, said: “Despite promising signs that agricultural trade is returning to seasonal levels across Sierra Leone, the price of imported rice remains unusually low in previously cordoned districts. This leads us to believe that more research needs to be done on the relationship between market prices and food aid, especially in the form of imported rice.”

Read the IGC bulletin on healthcare-seeking behaviour in Liberia is available here.

Read the IGC bulletin on food security in Sierra Leone is available here.