Ebola fears send Libera hand sanitiser prices soaring: NGO

LONDON (AFP) - The struggle to contain the worst-ever Ebola epidemic in west Africa is being complicated by the soaring cost of hand sanitiser, a leading charity said on Thursday.

Mr Mike Noyes, ActionAid UK's Head of Humanitarian Response, said the prices of some hygiene products had gone up sevenfold, making them unaffordable for many in the region.

"Hand sanitiser that they used to pay seven Liberian dollars for is now 50 dollars (S$0.67), and that makes even protecting yourself a huge challenge for very poor families in quite isolated areas," he told AFP.

Demand for sanitary products has risen sharply as communities have become increasingly aware of hygiene measures that can halt the transmission of the deadly disease.

But this has led to a steep rise in prices, compounding the challenges facing people in affected countries like Liberia, where the average monthly income is just S$81, according to the World Bank.

The current outbreak is the largest in history and has killed 156 people in Liberia and 729 across the west African region.

The virus can be fatal in up to 90 per cent of cases, though this outbreak has killed about 60 per cent of those infected. While there is no known cure, sanitary precautions can greatly reduce the risk of transmission.

Mr Noyes also warned that the crisis could be economically ruinous for some of the poorest communities in the region.

"When markets stop functioning because people don't want to go to them or people are advised not to go to them, trading doesn't happen," he said.

"That means people don't necessarily sell the products they need to sell, they don't buy what they need to buy."