Ebola, insurers on the look-out

According to the latest report of the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola now raging in West Africa has contaminated 16 899 individuals from March to the end of November 2014 nearly a third of them, that is 6 046 people, have never survived the disease.

WHO’s forecasts are far from reassuring. Despite some hopeful signs such as the imminent development of a vaccine, the epidemic continues to grow. Still, according to WHO, no other disease has ever claimed so many lives or has been so widespread. By December 2014, Ebola could infect up to 10 000 new people per week in West Africa.

Medical check-up © CDC Global, CC BY 2.0

During the initial weeks of the epidemic, mortality rate has reached 70% of the total number of those infected. Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and most recently Mali are the countries hardest-hit by the disaster. Six suspected cases were reported in Spain and nine infections with the virus were detected in the US where the death of two people from Ebola has revived concerns about a possible spread of the disease in Western countries.

Chronology of Ebola death toll per country
Date of WHO’s death tollsGuineaSierra LeoneLiberiaNigeriaMaliD.R of CongoTotal
4944768717001 848
7396282 0698003 444
8431 1832 4588004 492
1 1921 2502 9648505 419
1 2601 3983 0168605 688
1 3121 5303 14586456 046
Source: OMS

In a recent article, the microbiologist Jean-Pierre Dedet, author of "Epidemics from the Black Death to A / H1N1 Influenza “ ruled out the possibility for the disease to spread to the European and American continents. Certainly there will be some infections, but they will be quickly detected and controlled. The epidemic will continue to rage in Africa, especially in the poorest countries. Countries exposed to the virus have a fragile health system, with a high level of poverty and a traditional consumption of raw bushmeat, a propagation vector of the parasite.

As a reminder, Ebola, also known as hemorrhagic fever, first appeared in 1976 in isolated villages in Sudan and Congo. The number of deaths back then did not exceed 431 cases.

The source of the disease is still a mystery. Some studies have, however, shown that bats and some species of monkeys may be healthy carriers of the virus. The germ of the disease is transmitted to humans by direct contact with animals or by meat consumption. It spreads then by human contact.

There is currently no vaccine against this deadly disease. Several treatments are nevertheless being evaluated.


According to the World Health Organization, a pandemic is an outbreak of infectious and contagious disease that meets three key criteria. The disease:

  • is caused by a new virus or a virus that has not surfaced for a long time.
  • is characterized by high morbidity and mortality.
  • spreads easily and affects a significant proportion of the population over a large stretch of land.
Chronology of previous Ebola virus disease outbreaks
YearCountryNumber of casesNumber of deathsMortality rate
D. R. of Congo572951%
D. R. of Congo321444%
D. R. of Congo26418771%
2003 (from November to December)
2003 (from January to April)
South Africa11100%
1996 (from July to December)
1996 (from January to April)
D. R. of Congo31525481%
Côte d’Ivoire100%
D. R. of Congo11100%
D. R. of Congo31828088%
Source: World Health Organization www.who.int

Coverage of pandemic risk

The pandemic is a mass risk, ranked among the uncontrollable catastrophe. Its scope may be geographically widespread. This disaster may thus have a significant impact on the economy and especially on insurance. According to experts, the loss peaks could cause financial hardship and affect the profitability of certain insurance markets if the virus quits the countries where it is now raging.

Impact of Ebola on insurance

In Africa

In Africa, more than 90% of the workforce does not have insurance cover. In addition, the penetration rate of life insurance is low. In 2013, the rate was 0.3% in sub-Saharan Africa and 0.5% for the overall CIMA zone. In countries where Ebola is most prevalent, that is, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the penetration rate is below 0.3%. The consequences of the spread of Ebola in Africa would therefore be hardly detrimental to insurance companies.

In the worst case scenario, governments of affected countries will support the sick and face the various consequences.

Outside Africa

The violent onset of Ebola had put insurance sector professionals on the look-out, anticipating worst-case scenarios in the event of disease spread in countries with high insurance penetration rates.

However, experts believe that insurers of economically advanced countries will not be significantly impacted. Only those operating in countries with low and middle economic levels could sustain damage by such a pandemic.

According to estimates by the Insurance Information Institute (III), nearly two million deaths claim reports are presented each year by beneficiaries in the United States. In case of spread of the epidemic in this country, the death toll could rise by 100 000 units per year. The loss ratio for life insurers will therefore increase by almost 5%. The III considers this increase in mortality to be reasonable and under no circumstances prejudicial to the solvency of American insurers.

Economic impact

A catastrophe of such magnitude could affect not only the economies of the countries hit by the epidemic but also those of neighboring countries. According to the World Bank, the damage is likely to amount to 32.6 billion USD by the end of 2015 if the virus spreads beyond Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Still, according to the World Bank, the total cost of the epidemic to the public finances of the three countries seriously attained has already reached 500 million USD.

This damage is due, among others, to:

  • The decline in GDP growth with a loss of 2.1 points in Guinea, 3.4 points in Liberia and 3.3 points in Sierra Leone. These cumulative growth losses are poised to amount to 359 million USD in 2014,
  • Economic paralysis combined with the risk of closure of companies or alteration of goods in West Africa,
  • Operating loss,
  • Closing borders with neighboring countries, which would disrupt trade,
  • The risk of a food crisis,
  • Decrease in tourism,
  • Work absenteeism,
  • The cost of treating patients: patients’ confinement, treatments, vaccines,...
  • The decline of investments in the region.
The violent onset of Ebola had insurance sector professionals on the look-out, anticipating worst-case scenarios in the event of disease spread in countries with high insurance penetration rates.
Your rating: None
Advertising Program          Terms of Service          Copyright          Useful links          Social networks          Credits