MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Ebola has crippled the economies of the three West African countries hit hardest by the disease, the World Bank said Tuesday, lowering its growth predictions for the countries for this year and next.

The outbreak, which was identified in March in Guinea, has shut hospitals, schools and markets, hampered cross-border trade and resulted in the suspension of many of the airline flights serving Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Ebola has infected nearly 17,000 people, of which about 6,000 have died, according to the World Health Organization. The three countries are among the least developed countries in the world, and are struggling to restore stability and growth after years of conflict.

The World Bank’s new projections further slash lowered estimates that the bank published in October.

Guinea’s economy will grow just 0.5 percent this year, down from an expected 4.5 percent before the crisis began, said the bank in its latest assessment of Ebola’s impact. Sierra Leone is expected to register 4 percent economic growth, down from a pre-crisis expectation of 11.3 percent, while Liberia will see 2.2 percent growth, down from 5.9 percent. The economic effects are expected to worsen in Guinea and Sierra Leone next year, when both economies will shrink, according to the latest estimate.

Liberia has been hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak _ with 3,145 deaths _ but the infection rate there has slowed recently, and the bank said there are signs economic activity is picking up.

“This report reinforces why zero Ebola cases must be our goal,” said Jim Yong Kim, president of the bank. “While there are signs of progress, as long as the epidemic continues, the human and economic impact will only grow more devastating.”

Kim is visiting Liberia on Monday and is set to travel to Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The World Bank has pledged nearly $1 billion for the three countries, about half of which has been disbursed for the emergency response.