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An Appropriate Corporate Response to Ebola

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Ebola is the latest epidemic to hit Africa, and it arrived Nigeria through a Liberian traveller. Sadly, two Nigerians have been reported to die from the virus. Please visit http://ebolafacts.com/en/1 for more information about the virus and how to prevent its spread as this post is devoted to what companies’ response should be.

Reading between the lines of communication released by the government agencies in charge suggests that some secondary contacts of the victims have not been located. Hence they are not being monitored or quarantined as the case may be.

While the health ministry and other government agencies do their best to contain the spread, what should businesses do to limit the potential negative impact on their businesses and to contribute to the effort to contain the virus?

It is imperative to establish that there is a strong business case for concerted action on the part of businesses as some potential consequences of the spread of Ebola to more people in Nigeria include loss of key personnel, the associated erosion of company skills and institutional memory, and the costs of hiring and retraining.

Also, productivity may still suffer even if no employee dies as employees may suffer from loss of morale and low productivity caused by grief from losing a loved one or fear from contracting the virus. Imagine the crippling effect on the economy if the impact described above is multiplied across companies in the country. This is excluding the loss of revenue and business that could occur if our borders are shut.

Here’s what businesses can do:

First, businesses need to play a key informational role to their communities of interest including employees, customers, business partners and host communities. Companies should enlighten them about symptoms of Ebola and highlight preventive measures to be undertaken.

Second, to ensure continuity of operations, businesses need to develop a business contingency plan (BCP) in the case of an outbreak. The BCP should identify necessary resources to continue business in the event of a disease outbreak, in terms of personnel, information, equipment, financial allocations, infrastructure protection and accommodation.

Third, organizations need to modify operations to minimize the risk of exposure and potential for spreading the disease. For example, contrary to current business culture, sick employees should be discouraged from coming to work at all costs and where possible, working from home and telecommuting should be adopted to limit personal contacts that might increase the risk of contagion. These should however be done upon analysis of information about the spread of the disease.

Fourth, key industries most likely to be affected by a mass Ebola outbreak, and those that act as first responders should coordinate with governments to identify specific practices to help contain the spread of the virus. For example following the SARS outbreak in 2003, In Hong Kong, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Corporation worked with the government to implement frequent cleaning practices and apply a disinfectant, nano silver-titanium dioxide coating, to areas frequently touched by passengers. Perhaps, it should become part of the standard practice of cleaners in organizations and transportation networks to regularly disinfect places where contact with bodily fluids can easily occur such as bathrooms, door knobs and hand rails, etc. Also companies can place vials of hand sanitizers in public and visible places and encourage its frequent use or even purchase some quantities to be given to staff.

Finally, the current onslaught of the Ebola Virus has brought to light huge deficiencies in Nigeria’s public health infrastructure and disease control capabilities. Businesses need to contribute their leadership, efficiency and resources in working with government to build an appropriate public health infrastructure in Nigeria both for Ebola and for the next epidemic if it arrives.

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