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Editorial: Insurance, Indifference and the Ebola Crisis

What role should the industry play in the scare in West Africa?

Nothing quite shows off the nobility of human nature—or its selfish ugliness—like an epidemic scare. As we go to press, authorities in West Africa are struggling with the Ebola crisis. A medical missionary told an applauding news conference that he was “thrilled to be alive” after he was successfully treated—in the States. Good. Now how about five-star treatment for everyone else in the region?

Since we cover P&C, let me take a moment to briefly pick on the Life side. Business Day has reported that certain experts urged the industry to get out there and push their policies. Scary pandemic? Ka-ching! An insurance advisor in Nigeria suggested, “I think it will be an opportunity for [the] insurance industry to play its strategic role in the current circumstances.” As the Abuja government scrambles for coverage of medical personnel, “It is now left for the insurance industry to take advantage of the situation.”

In sharp contrast, Lockton Global has developed a policy solution over Ebola that goes beyond regular Business Interruption coverage, which normally needs physical damage or another trigger to set things in motion. “We wanted to address some of the concerns pre-emptively that I think we were getting from our clients,” says Logan Payne, senior account manager of Lockton’s international risk management team. The clients have rushed to this insurer, not the insurer playing vulture to those trying to cope.

Payne says the company originally developed the product with the hospitality and entertainment industries in mind, because if a client suffers a revenue loss due to a flu outbreak or media reports over bedbugs, “it’s not something tangible that can be tied to a traditional property policy.”

I asked him if Lockton’s contingency services took into account not just Western expats, but locals, who could suffer the most. “It’s not an irrelevant question,” concedes Payne, who argues that “being good corporate citizens” is high on the list of their clients’ priorities.

The crisis shows how our indifference towards Africa could turn on us and bring the trouble to our shores. It would be nice if we began to factor in the millions who could benefit from our wealth and expertise, rather than treating them as extras in a horror movie. Foreign doctors turned patients get airlifted out, while local nurses are left behind, and peripheral staff of Big Oil can’t escape either. Ebola reminds us there is no Third World—there never was. There’s just one, and compassion beats jetting away in denial.

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Copyright 2014 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the September 2014 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P.
Transcontinental Media G.P.