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Ebola & West Africa

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Doctors Without BordersThe Ebola Impact on West Africa Tourism

Ebola. It’s a word that most people want to stay as far away from as possible. And since February 2014, when the outbreak in West Africa was first announced, majority of travellers have been doing just that; eschewing affected countries – quite rightly - in favour of, well, anywhere else.

In the media frenzy of the past year, much information seems to have been distorted, misunderstood or altogether ignored by parts of the press and general public. This has led to a massive 20-70 percent decline in travel to West Africa, even to countries such as Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Ghana, The Ivory Coast, Senegal, The Gambia, Cape Verde Islands, which have had absolutely no contact with the disease. And the people who are really suffering from this shift in attitude - or “the Ebola effect” - are the locals.

It’s the tour leaders in Mali, the porters in the Dogon country, the taxi drivers in Senegal and the restaurant owners in Accra who lose out when travellers decide not to travel to West Africa for fear of Ebola. When tourism experiences a slump in, say, Ghana, the foreign exchange income also slumps. This means the Ghanaian Cedi weakens against the dollar, as well as against other major Western currencies, leading to an economic slip and slide.

Local currencies fall, import costs rise and the general cost of living grows greater for every local person. You don’t need to be an economist to understand the impact this has on local communities. While feelings of apprehension are understandable, I don’t believe the Ebola outbreak should be a deterrent for travel across the wider sub-regions.

To date, only three countries in the world have ‘widespread and intense’ transmission of the Ebola virus. Those are Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with travel restrictions, closing of borders, quarantines, curfews and a number of other measures in place to attempt to contain the spread. There’s really no need for people to be scared about travelling to unaffected areas. You can see elephants, gorillas, lions, the voodoo festival, the Dogon country and the rest of it, take all the photos, and come home without ever coming close to Ebola.

It should also be noted that you can only catch Ebola from touching the bodily fluids of a person who is sick or has died from the disease. You can’t get it through water, you can’t get it through food, and the disease isn’t airborne.

To try and understate the catastrophic impact of Ebola, especially when the death toll currently sits at just under 8,000, would be irresponsible. But it would serve travellers well to recognize that now, more than ever, Africa needs them and the money they bring to help sustain local businesses and communities.

While travel to the worst affected countries is still unadvised, those wanting to help can contribute to the Ebola response in West Africa. As part of our campaign with Unite For West Africa, Mandinka Tours will match traveller donations to Médecins Sans Frontières in any of the countries of your choice. If you altered your West Africa travel plans in the wake of the Ebola outbreak, or are harbouring a newfound interest for the sub-region, why not book a trip with Mandinka Tours? Our trips are led by our knowledgeable and friendly local guides and we use local transport, accommodation and operators along the way wherever possible.

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Republique du Mali

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