For Companies Doing Business in Remote Regions, Self-Sufficiency and Preparedness are Critical

By Megan Gates


Sub-Saharan Africa is an area of the world where growth presents business opportunities. According to the World Bank’s Africa’s Pulse, a twice-yearly analysis of the issues shaping Africa’s economic prospects, October 7 report “economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa remains strong with growth forecasted to be 4.9 percent in 2013” with almost one-third of countries in the region growing at 6 percent and more making them “routinely among the fastest growing countries in the world.”

Among the sectors attracting private business investment are mineral resources, agriculture, and the service sectors. But businesses considering opening an office in this region would do well to consider how they will provide staff who must work or travel there with emergency response services, such as medical care and crisis evacuations, should the need arise.

Daniel Andresen, International SOS’s security director for southern Africa, and coworker Mark Troy, who is regional manager for Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, discussed the issue at a recent CSO Roundtable Webinar in a presentation titled “Sub-Saharan Africa: Common Tripwires to Avoid.”

“I don’t think you can rely fully on some of the countries to provide you with appropriate levels of policing, ambulatory services, and some of these sorts of things,” said Andresen. “So it’s important that you put plans in place to assist your employees.”

Planning is critical. “Who you should call, where should you go, what is your solution for medical care,” these are all things that have to be determined ahead of time, “because at the time of the emergency, at the time of the illness, you may not know where to go and it might be too late,” Troy says, who has lived in Africa for 20 years.

Self-sufficiency is also important. Employees should be trained to act as their own medical-care first responders, especially in remote areas where an ambulance is not available, says Andresen. They should be trained in first aid and in how to administer CPR. Also, employers should have a plan for employees to follow if someone is injured so that person can be stabilized and moved to an extraction point, if necessary, so that they can be taken to a medical facility.

If an injury requires invasive or emergency surgery, International SOS recommends that the injured person be sent to the nearest “center of medical excellence,” Troy says. “That tends to be either in Europe, Paris, London, or Johannesburg.” It’s not that there aren’t good doctors in Africa, but, “we find over and over, even though you have many talented doctors and other medical professionals in Nigeria and other West African countries, it’s not just a doctor alone that makes for a reliable practice,” Troy explains. “There’s so many other moving parts that have to be working exactly right. The equipment has to be maintained; the medicines have to not be expired; and nurses have to be trained. The generators have to be working [which often is not the case] because there’s no electricity,” and all those factors add up to more risk for the patient.

Troy also recommends that there be medical prescreening for any employees who will need to travel to or work in remote locations where the medical services to handle certain conditions might not be readily available. This can also give employees and employers a chance to work out how employees can get access to medications they may need and advice on when they should seek medical help in case of illness.

In addition, Troy advises employers to educate employees about the symptoms associated with diseases, such as Malaria, that they may be at risk of contracting in this new environment. They should also be told what to do if they believe they’ve contracted it. The company should also make sure that employees obtain any vaccinations that are necessary to enter the country they are going to. “In West Africa, some countries require that you have Yellow Fever vaccination, and you have to show your vaccination card on arrival,” he says. “If you don’t have it, they will try to give you a vaccination at the airport, which is a grim prospect for a lot of people.”

Companies also need to give employees training on the everyday security risks they will face. For example, one way that locals have taken advantage of foreigners in the past is to pose as drivers at the airport. Criminals come to the airport and look around until they see someone holding a sign with the name of a company or the name of an individual. “And they simply will just make a sign of their own, the exact same sign, and stand in front of that individual, block his or her view, and the business traveler unknowingly goes off with the wrong person and goes basically for a very expensive cab ride,” says Andresen.

Instead of using a sign to match the driver with the employee, travelers should be given contact information for their driver so that they can call and arrange where to meet at the airport, Andresen says. The company should also avoid just telling employees to catch a cab as those can be unregulated and unsafe.

Corruption among government officials can also be common in many parts of the world, and employees should be trained on how to handle situations, such as being asked for a bribe in exchange for services, Andresen says.

The company should also do a risk assessment to identify project-specific risks as it prepares its crisis management plan for offices in Africa, especially those in remote locations. Threats might include work stoppages and strikes, kidnappings, and terrorist attacks.

The goal is to “have the appropriate plans and resources in place and really make sure that you’re, to a certain level, self-sufficient so when things happen, you’re confident that you can deal with them and bring things under control rather quickly,” Andresen says.

In the most extreme crises, however, employees will not be able to bring things under control. When that happens, an evacuation may be needed. Companies should have emergency evacuation plans that have been tested, and they must make sure that employees and family members know what to do if the plan needs to become operational. This is especially critical if the future location of a new office is an area prone to political instability.


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