Adapting to a Pandemic

As a global medical and travel security services provider across Africa, International SOS has broadened its portfolio to provide on-going health updates, screen personnel, coordinate quarantine wards and perform Telehealth services in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

What have been the key developments for International SOS in the past twelve months, giving particular weight to the state of emergency produced by the COVID-19 pandemic?

With COVID-19 on the rise, this has dramatically accelerated our remote working capabilities. At International SOS, we have been tracking and preparing for a severe impact since the beginning of the outbreak in China by rolling out our Business Continuity Plan and our Pandemic management plan.

In addition, our Medical Information and Analysis team has been at the heart of our response and has been recognized for the excellent and timely contents they are distributing during this crisis. This information remains very valuable to our teams who are involved in advising clients and their workforce across the globe.

This pandemic has also created a need for new services to help companies to protect their employees, whether they are in an office, working from home or on a remote project site. We have tailored new medical consulting and staffing solutions for organizations to enable their workforce to best respond to the pandemic

Given that COVID-19 hasn’t yet impacted Africa to the extent that it has Europe and Asia, how can further spread of the virus be prevented?

At International SOS, we understand that this is a rapidly evolving situation globally that we are monitoring closely. We are in constant and close contact with local and international health authorities. Africa can craft its response based on the lessons drawn from the outbreaks in Asia and Europe. Personal hygiene and social distancing measures implemented by the authorities need to be strictly followed.

Organizations must understand that restrictions and safety measures have been put in place to stop the spread and protect the lives of their people. It has become the responsibility of every organization to:

  • Educate employees on the symptoms and precautionary hygiene measures and ensure people have access to the most up to date information.
  •  Advise employees to seek medical attention if they feel unwell.
  • Arrange stand up crisis management teams and communicate regularly to keep staff informed.
  • Review travel management plans, potential for travel disruption, risk of imposed quarantine.
  • Review pandemic plans including how to manage travelers from affected areas.
  • Review protective equipment, cleaning protocols.

What initiatives has International SOS implemented to contain the spread of the virus, and how would you evaluate the efficacy of such initiatives thus far?

Since the beginning of the outbreak, we have created a dedicated section to COVID-19 on our website and have opened access for free to part of our Pandemic Information Service. This has enabled us to offer a centralized source of reliable information on COVID-19 to the public. As countries increasingly impose travel restrictions and border control measures in response to the pandemic status, dedicated International SOS employees across our global network of Assistance Centers are working around the clock, as they continue to provide advice and support for our clients in managing individual medical cases and wider organizational impact. At this time, International SOS has issued guidance to all businesses to defer all non-essential international travel, which is a notable first time in our company 37-year-history.

At the same time, with more than 1,000 operational client sites with on-site medical facilities operated by International SOS personnel, more than 60 Primary and Emergency Care and Occupational Health clinics, and the reliance of both our clients and our own facilities on our medical supply chain capabilities, it is crucial that International SOS business continuity plans continue to be robust and efficient, in direct response to the widespread pandemic.

Our Pandemic Plan assumes that a pandemic could infect up to 30% of our global workforce. A severe outbreak, at the same time, could lead to the prolonged reduction of our labor force as clients place greater demand on some of our services. We have activated our Pandemic Plan as we continue to navigate and address the rapid spread of COVID-19. Our global Crisis Management Team continues to supervise our organizational response to the outbreak and works closely with our regional crisis management teams to ensure that we enhance our existing capabilities and resilience.

We have appointed Pandemic Managers across the business to ensure that our local risks are being managed effectively. Pandemic Managers are responsible for maintaining close surveillance over travel, activating protected work environments, managing screening processes, tracking any impacted employees, and maintaining an appropriate flow of validated information and communications regarding the COVID-19 outbreak.

Specifically, within the oil and gas sector, how has the provision of onshore and offshore medical and security solutions been impacted by the virus?

International SOS works very closely with oil and gas companies. We have taken all the necessary measures through our BCP to ensure that we maintain provision of medical services to the more than 100 offshore and onshore oil and gas sites that we serve across Africa. We have also helped them to implement preventive measures to protect their workforce during this pandemic.

The travel restrictions and other preventive measures that governments had to put in place are creating additional complexity for workers located on offshore rigs. We work closely with the local health authorities to understand the measures that have been put in place and to find solutions to maintain our level of service to our clients. The situation is very fluid, and we are constantly adapting to the changing environment.

The pandemic requires companies to adapt their health and safety strategies and increase the preventive measures to protect their workforce. To fulfil this critical need, we have broadened the International SOS Pandemic Portfolio. This enables us to better assist organizations to develop an appropriate response to the pandemic in their unique context. The ways in which we help include offering a review of the organizations’ response plans and providing supporting guidelines; providing on-going health situation updates and helping clients workforce deal with the outbreak through customized webinars; screening personnel on site and coordinating quarantine wards by our medical professionals; and performing teleconsultation, tele advice and triage via video by our clinic doctors.

What makes the African continent a susceptible region for the spread of COVID-19, and conversely, which characteristics work in its favor?

COVID-19 is affecting all the continents and we saw the pressure that it is creating on public health systems. African countries have taken measures at early stages of the outbreak to protect their public health system. The spread of the virus really depends on the capacity of the virus to transmit, and how quickly cases are identified and isolated through a coordinated public health response, and the identification and monitoring of contacts. In many countries, there are robust public health services in place, which are preparing for the potential spread and they are implementing appropriate plans for control. However, there are some locations where healthcare provision is less solid and detection of COVID-19 may be slower and lead to the potential of further spread prior to detection, as indicated by the World Health Organization when declaring the outbreak, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

International SOS is a global leading medical and travel security services company, with more than 11,000 multi-cultural medical, security and logistics experts who provide support and assistance from over 1,000 locations in 90 countries. The company operates within a range of sectors, from oil and gas, mining and maritime to government, aviation and infrastructure. Visit www.internationalsos.com to learn how International SOS can help protect your global workforce.