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Ebola: Is Kenya Airways doing the right thing?

Kenya Airways announced last evening that it will continue regular flights to four west African countries currently in the grip of an Ebola epidemic. Is the airline making the right decision?

Kenya Airways CEO, Titus Naikuni.

Kenya Airways CEO, Titus Naikuni.

Kenya Airways is facing public pressure to suspend flights to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. Cases of Ebola have been reported in those four countries sparking fear that an infected passenger could spread Ebola to Nairobi. Kenya’s health care system simply lacks the capacity to handle Ebola, more so in a densely populated city of 4 million.

Besides, an outbreak of Ebola would completely destroy Kenya’s tourism industry which is already experiencing hard times.

Kenya Airways is in a dilemma as far as Ebola is concerned. West African routes are among the airline’s most lucrative at a time when it is just emerging from a loss-making streak. In addition, the suspension of flights by British Airways and Emirates could be driving more passengers into the waiting arms of Kenya Airways. From a purely business perspective, the situation in west Africa is very attractice.

On the political side, Kenya Airways risks incurring the wrath of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea should it stop flying there. None of the three countries have a national airline and Kenya Airways is among international players filling the gap. If Kenya Airways suspends flights, governments of those countries could impose punitive measures that could hurt business in future. The people of those countries would accuse Kenya Airways of abandoning them at a time of crisis.

On the other hand, Kenya Airways could ruin its reputation and face collapse if found responsible for spreading Ebola outside west Africa. It would be a tragedy indeed for CEO Titus Naikuni if his last big decision led to the demise of the airline. Naikuni is due to retire in November after 11 years at the helm.

Debate on whether Kenya Airways should continue flying to west Africa has gone as far as Parliament.

Last evening, the airline said it will continue flying to west Africa in accordance with recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The WHO advice to travelers is unchanged. It continues to state that the the risk of a tourist or businessman/woman becoming infected with Ebola during a visit to the affected areas is extremely low,” reads part of the statement released by Kenya Airways.

“Transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animal, all unlikely exposures for the average traveler. Tourists are in any event advised to avoid all such contacts,” said the airline’s CEO yesterday.

“We have been assured by the Ministry of Health authorities in the respective countries, including Kenya that the surveillance and screening at the airports conform to WHO guidelines,” said Naikuni.

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