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Long shadow of fear in an epidemic: fearonomic effects of Ebola on the private sector in Nigeria

Abstract

Background The already significant impact of the Ebola epidemic on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, was worsened by a fear of contagion that aggravated the health crisis. However, in contrast to other Ebola-affected countries, Nigeria fared significantly better due to its swift containment of the disease. The objective of our study was to describe the impact of Ebola on the Nigerian private sector. This paper introduces and defines the term fearonomic effect as the direct and indirect economic effects of both misinformation as well as fear-induced aversion behaviour, exhibited by individuals, organisations or countries during an outbreak or an epidemic.

Methods This study was designed as a cross-sectional mixed-methods study that used semistructured in-depth interviews and a supporting survey to capture the impact of Ebola on the Nigerian private sector after the outbreak. Themes were generated from the interviews on the direct and indirect impact of Ebola on the private sector; the impact of misinformation and fear-based aversion behaviour in the private sector.

Results Our findings reveal that the fearonomic effects of Ebola included health service outages and reduced healthcare usage as a result of misinformation and aversion behaviour by both patients and providers. Although certain sectors (eg, health sector, aviation sector, hospitality sector) in Nigeria were affected more than others, no business was immune to Ebola's fearonomic effects. We describe how sectors expected to prosper during the outbreak (eg, pharmaceuticals), actually suffered due to the changes in consumption patterns and demand shocks.

Conclusion In a high-stressor epidemic-like setting, altered consumption behaviour due to distorted disease perception, misinformation and fear can trigger short-term economic cascades that can disproportionately affect businesses and lead to financial insecurity of the poorest and the most vulnerable in a society.

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

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