After Ebola: Mobile Phone Survey Penetrates Ebola-affected Zone, Shows Major Economic Disruption in Liberia and Sierra Leone

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Following the height of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the results of a six-month survey by GeoPoll and FHI 360 reveal severe economic disruption and income losses but show optimism over the job market in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Following the height of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the results of a six-month survey by GeoPoll and FHI 360 reveal severe economic disruption and income losses but show optimism over the job market in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Collected via SMS messages through GeoPoll’s large database of respondents, the survey offers valuable insights into the long-term impacts of the Ebola outbreak on local and national economies. It was conducted by mobile survey company GeoPoll and FHI 360, a global human development organization, and was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The survey was conducted in 13 rounds from January to June 2015 and reached all provinces of Sierra Leone and all districts in Liberia. Remote data collection through GeoPoll’s mobile survey platform focused on the income and employment market, as well as food prices and transportation costs, and enabled USAID to conduct an ongoing assessment of the economic recovery process in Sierra Leone and Liberia, including areas restricted by the quarantine.

“The mobile phone is a valuable tool in its ability to collect data from remote or disaster-stricken areas. For this project we conducted 30,000 mobile surveys across Sierra Leone and Liberia, demonstrating the power and reach of mobile technology in its delivery of real-time, actionable data,” said Amy Sweeney, Director of Client Business Development, GeoPoll.

The survey data shows that household income in both countries has fallen since the start of the outbreak, with an average of more than 70 percent in Sierra Leone and more than 60 percent in Liberia saying that their income has fallen since June 2014. In Sierra Leone, more than 40 percent of respondents said their income has fallen by more than 20 percent, and 70 percent reported their limited income required reductions in their expenses. Approximately one in five respondents in each country reported that their income actually continued to decline week-to-week as of June 14, 2015.

Despite these hardships, respondents were optimistic about the local job market and the speed of its recovery, with 70 percent in Liberia and 62 percent in Sierra Leone expressing confidence that their respective job markets would do well over the course of the next six months. Younger people were especially optimistic: 74 percent of respondents between the ages of 15 and 24 in Liberia and 69 percent in Sierra Leone expected that the job market would improve in the next six months.

This project collected 1,000 completed surveys each from Sierra Leone and Liberia for 13 rounds, and also included four rounds of additional data collection for a total of 30,000 completed surveys. Survey respondents were recruited through the GeoPoll database of over 1.6 million users in Liberia and over 1.8 million users in Sierra Leone. Mobile phone ownership in both Liberia and Sierra Leone tends to be concentrated among populations that are younger, have higher incomes and have a higher proportion of males than the population as a whole. While this can be mitigated by targeted sampling, due to a higher proportion of younger male respondents, it is possible that the actual impacts of the Ebola Virus Disease on the household economies of the two countries are more negative than the surveys indicate.

The release of this data provides valuable insights into how employment, income and food and transportation costs can be impacted by the widespread outbreak of a disease such as Ebola and will continue to inform the efforts of those working to stabilize the economies of Sierra Leone and Liberia. A full interactive dashboard and dataset from this project are available for open use at http://research.geopoll.com/ebola-usaid-case-study.

About GeoPoll
GeoPoll is the world’s largest mobile survey platform, with a network of more than 200 million users in emerging markets. GeoPoll’s platform conducts surveys through the mobile phone and provides results to clients in real-time, giving anyone the ability to make data-driven decisions. Through work with Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and governments, GeoPoll provides insights on everything from food security to brand preferences. GeoPoll services include both custom research and subscription products. For more information, visit http://www.GeoPoll.com.

About FHI360
FHI 360 is a nonprofit human development organization dedicated to improving lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions. Our staff includes experts in health, education, nutrition, environment, economic development, civil society, gender equality, youth, research, technology, communication and social marketing — creating a unique mix of capabilities to address today’s interrelated development challenges. FHI 360 serves more than 70 countries and all U.S. states and territories.

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Roxana Elliott
GeoPoll
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