This week Nwafor James, Managing Director of the agency Education & Travel Resources Ltd in Nigeria, speaks out about the ongoing Ebola pandemic and potential implications for his business. 



“Talk about West Africa these days and the first thing to come to the mind is the Ebola pandemic, or Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF) as it is aptly named. The question would be how are we – those residing and working here – coping with it, and being affected by it. No doubt, the Ebola pandemic is now a very serious issue and even a National Security issue for some countries (such as Liberia), but for others (such as Nigeria where I reside, and my agency is based), it is not wide-spread and as such, has little effect on business activities including my agency. The short answer to the question, "Has the recent Ebola crisis affected business for your agency?" would therefore be: no.

My agency is based in Abuja, the political capital of Nigeria, and the country has not been seriously affected, having contained the pockets of the disease in Lagos (the commercial hub) and lately Port Harcourt (the oil/gas centre). The disease actually was introduced in Nigeria by a man from Liberia, who flew into Lagos, supposedly for a business meeting.

So far this disease crisis has hit West Africa hard and this has been the most serious outbreak of the disease in history, having affected more than 4,000 people and killed more than 2,000. However, some countries have been much harder hit than others. The first instance of the disease sprang up in Guinea, spread to Sierra Leone and rather quickly to Liberia, which has so far been the worst hit country. A state of emergency has recently been declared, and this obviously means a shut-down of business. So, definitely agencies based there would have been affected, indirectly if not directly.

The other country affected in West Africa is Senegal, which seems to have been able to successfully contain/eradicate its singular case. A different instance of the disease was recently announced in Congo (Central Africa). However, so far, that seems to have been contained.

Serious efforts are being made by the government (through the Ministries of Health and the Ministry of Information) to sensitise the public about the dangers of the disease and prevention methods, and this seems to be sinking in. In the city of Abuja these days, It is not unusual in malls, banks, supermarkets and other public buildings for people to be required to wash their hands in water with disinfectant and/or douse their hands with hand sanitiser and undergo a quick infra-red thermometer check of one's temperature before being allowed entry to such building. Many workers in such organisations are often found wearing hand-gloves and with several bottles of hand sanitizer lying around. People have also been much more cautious, especially around people that are in any way ill.

One negative dimension that is recently being observed is the stigmatisation of survivors of the disease by their former employees and friends/colleagues/family/etc. However, this is currently being addressed, with the Lagos state government, for instance making it clear it would prosecute employers and other offenders.

One other way this outbreak could affect my agency indirectly, and perhaps in the long-run, is the recent announcement by the government that the resumption of primary and secondary schools would be suspended until October. This was later brought forward to later this September. However, there has been clamour from some quarters, notably the Nigerian Medical Association for the resumption to be suspended indefinitely, or at least until the last case of the disease had been dealt with. We would have to wait and see what the final decision on this would be. This could delay the school timetable and possibly delay the passing out of final year secondary school students next year, who would have been interested in our services earlier. But this is a long-shot probable effect.

Given the now serious nature of this outbreak of the disease with some Americans, a Briton, a Spaniard, etc. having been affected (mostly while providing care to those affected in West African countries), the international community now seems to be taking this much more seriously, with various world leaders weighing in and providing various level of aid. These include the donation of $1m by Kenya, 50 Million a donation by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a research grant by Aliko Dangote, Africa's richest man and $1m from the Nigerian government. Experimental drugs have also been donated by Western countries such as the USA and Canada.

Research by Institutions and pharmaceutical companies to develop treatment and vaccines has also been scaled up. These concerted efforts will hopefully lead to proven cures and/or vaccines against the virus.

The fact that the vast majority of the Westerners affected by the disease have gone on to survive, after receiving quality health care and various experimental cocktail treatments, shows that this disease can be combated if proper measures are put in place. This leads me to believe this scourge will be stamped out, and hopefully we will all be better prepared if it rears its ugly head again.

In conclusion, if the disease is contained in Lagos and Port Harcourt, without it being wide-spread and potentially affecting other cities/regions, particularly Abuja where my agency is based, the impact on business would have been limited, if not non-existent.”

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