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WEST AFRICA: EBOLA – Perspectives on Ebola and Talent Mobility in West Africa
September 4, 2014
On September 1, 2014, the Minister of Health Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu announced 17 confirmed Ebola infections with 271 people suspected of having contracted the virus (http://www.health.gov.ng/index.php/news-media/press-releases/9-uncategorised/194-updated-summary-of-evd-status-of-nigeria-by-minister-of-health-as-at-sept-1-2014). The pulverizing effect this disease is having on the nationals of Nigeria and other afflicted countries is the worst human tragedy the Ebola epidemic has ever wrought. It is the organization’s hope that this disease will be contained much sooner than later.
While international aid organizations are keeping 24/7 attention on helping those in need, U.S. companies with business travel/expatriate programs in the emerging markets of continental Africa can also help by keeping tabs on sometimes disparate, but connected, events that may influence future travel or assignments for the remainder of 2014.
Keeping Employees Safe and Informed
What is important for companies with business travel programs and/or long-term assignees is focusing on how best to plan for travel during the course of 2014 and how best to protect employees and their family’s health.
BBC Health News offers a basic visual of “To-Do’s”: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-28940025
World Health Organization’s Ebola Fact Sheet: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/
Business travelers and assignees should keep themselves informed of both the precautions to take as well as keeping up with official host-government health announcements.
Companies should be cognizant of individual employees who may express concern about travel to – or evacuation from – African host countries, even if not in the immediate zones of Ebola outbreaks.
For U.S. citizens, employees traveling or assigned to Africa may wish to review the U.S. State Department’s website for travel warnings http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/go/Ebola.html and the Center for Disease Control’s Traveler’s Health website: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices.
Travel Restrictions and Bans (Air, Land and Sea)
From a mobility perspective, the World Health Organization (WHO) has posted information that points to an infected air traveller considered to be the “index case” of Ebola infection in Nigeria.
On September 3, WHO confirmed a third case in the oil hub of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and that there may be possibility of exposure of Ebola to a significant number of foreign national workers representing multinational companies working at this major Nigerian port (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/ebola/3-september-2014/en/).
Of note are private land, sea and air carriers operating in Africa that may elect to suspend or curtail their operations until further notice. In response, African dignitaries have requested the lifting of travel bans imposed by some European-based and intra-regional African air carriers, with concern that travel bans are hampering the fight against Ebola.
Following are some suggestions for relocation service providers along with Global Mobility Teams and HR professionals to consider when assessing business travel or assignments to Africa:
Flight bans may be announce by certain airlines (International: British Airways, Air France, Emirati Airlines, Kenya Airways, Korean Air. Intra-Regional African Airlines: Arik & ASky.)
For the immediate and foreseeable future, international and intra-regional African air travel, cross-border ports of entry, and container ship docks in West Africa are being affected as the epidemic continues to increase in numbers and is at risk of spreading to other countries.
Check with Airlines and Destination Airports. Company HR and Mobility Teams may wish to confirm with their international travel service organizations for current air travel requirements, particularly for departures from Africa to European destinations. For example, Frankfurt Airport is implementing heightened screenings of passengers arriving from West Africa.
While Luminary cannot attest the veracity or accuracy of third-party sites, the following site offers information on current and future travel bans in Africa: http://www.tourismupdate.co.za/Ebola.aspx
With a high mortality rate, Ebola is a most serious concern. The World Health Organization’s official position is that Ebola continues to be “low risk” for air travelers (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/notes/2014/ebola-travel/en/), however, as indicated above, airlines are taking a conservative approach.
Misinformation and Fear Can Feed Civil Unrest
There are concerns of “underreporting” the number of Ebola deaths not only in the afflicted areas, but possibly elsewhere in Africa.
Fear is the biggest challenge health ministries and international aid workers are grappling with in Africa (http://www.wmvo.com/health/ebola-is-real-on-streets-of-monrovia/).
The fear of physical contact is feeding serious social concerns for citizens and foreigners alike. Rumors of the virus becoming more communicable as it mutates across communities is creating international travel concerns as well as intra-regional bans in Africa. Given the heightened concerns, companies are strongly advised to handle current and future travel to continental Africa carefully and with the input of the employee’s comfort level. Obviously, any longer-term assignments to certain areas of Africa may require some thoughtful delay until conditions stabilize.
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