In Our Thoughts and Prayers: The Ebola Outbreak and Logistics

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September 20, 2014

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European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr

European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr

Amidst the torrent of articles about the commander in chief donning military regalia, unruly youth disrupting a presidential address in their area and the ubiquitous campaign to save the country from vaguely defined ills and inspire a referendum, one insidious bit of coverage continues to swim in and out of Kenyans’ collective attention: the present Ebola outbreak.

A recent study by Oxford University scientists aiming to map the possible path the Ebola contagion will take has identified Tanzania as one of 15 countries at high risk of being hit by the virulent strain currently tearing its way through West African. Kenya, previously listed as being at risk by the World Health Organization due to her status as a trade hub is mercifully not included in this new updated research.

With international coverage varying between sympathetic articles that seek to highlight the plight of ill equipped countries struggle to hold the virus at bay and alarmist articles listing any number of implausible ways for the current outbreak to spread to Europe and the Americas, the narrative on the epidemic switches daily depending on who is telling it. For Africans a distance away from the West African regions at the mercy of this plague, the extent of our concern has been in learning the facts of transmission and finding comfort in the hope that the spread will be arrested before it hits our shores.

For those of us in the logistics industry, however, our focus on this unfortunate illness has seen us follow the progression of events from months ago, with some arms of our industry actively in the struggle to help curb the human tragedy that continues to unfold.

The principle duty of the logistics industry in the preliminary months of the outbreak, which continues to date, is to deliver much needed medical supplies, protective gear and additional medical personnel to areas affected by the virus. In this, participants have had to perfect the shipping and freighting of sensitive medical equipment and aids to ensure it reaches the target destination in prime useable condition. For transport of potentially infectious materials, biohazard protocols have been initiated to ensure that no contamination occurs en route. This has included samples of the virus transported to research facilities across and outside the continent as needed, and more famously, American doctors infected with the virus being airlifted back to the USA for treatment.

Civilian logistics participants have been forced to make tough decisions: continue to ship or freight precious commodities like medicine and food to affected areas or protect employees by shutting down operations in hard hit regions. Many supply chain managers have, understandably, opted to cease all activity in or to regions where the infection is prevalent, both to protect staff and their individual businesses.

Karl Grobl/Education Development Center Inc./Wikimedia Commons

Karl Grobl/Education Development Center Inc./Wikimedia Commons

This very human decision has led to a ripple effect where trade in many West African regions has been severely affected, with economies suffering and many losing their livelihoods as a result. Ships that would normally have direct access Cameroon or the Ivory Coast from Nigeria have now found it necessary to adjust optimal routes, increasing costs and causing massive delays. Locally, grassroots logistics practitioners who would normally transport trade goods across villages in much affected Liberia continue to choose self-preservation, often leaving villages with large numbers of Ebola casualties and infected without access to basic commodities such as food.

The tragedy of Ebola has far reaching consequences that go beyond the heartbreaking face of the situation at hand. As we pray for the safety of our country, let us also spare a moment for the health workers in the hot zones, the infected, the affected and those so suddenly taken away by the disease, to keep them in our thoughts and prayers. Remember to be thankful for your health this week, won’t you?


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