January 17, 2018

Deep Understanding of the health care of expats in Africa crucial

By Cigna Executive, Gilles Nyssens

Multinational companies, especially those in the oil and gas sector, are seizing the opportunity to expand their businesses into Africa. While they are encouraged by the ongoing investment in the region, they are concerned with the infrastructure and health care services across the continent.

With a constantly improving business environment and significant investments such as China’s commitment to spending $60-billion over three years, multinational companies understand that Africa is primed to become the world’s next emerging market and they are eager to capitalise on the escalating economic growth.

While the continent is teeming with possibilities and multinational companies are queueing up to work in Africa, it’s important for them to appreciate that there are health care providers who understand the unique challenges and needs of expatriates (expats) and are therefore well-equipped to provide coverage for globally mobile populations.

Understanding Africa

Africa is home to five of the top 30 oil producing countries globally, and while the recent decrease in oil prices may dampen exploration efforts, investment in the region will continue.

When it comes to health risks, the leading concerns include malaria, typhoid fever, Hepatitis A and B, yellow fever and Ebola. Planning before expats leave their home countries can help reduce these health risks.

Access to medical care in Africa varies dramatically from one country to another. For example, Nigeria, which is the largest oil producing country in the region, has less than 10 hospitals while South Africa has countless. Understanding the history and infrastructure of countries is vital when selecting a global benefits plan.

The standard of medical care also varies across the continent and access to the latest medical advancements will not always be the norm. Expats should therefore schedule an evaluation before leaving their home countries to assess any potential risks prior to departure as pre-assignment programmes could identify any medical problems.

Urgent medical situations, particularly in the oil and gas industry which has a great deal of work happening on sub-sea and deep-sea drilling structures, will arise that may require an evacuation. Between the remote access of some locations and the physical demands, an evacuation plan needs to be considered as a majority of Cigna’s oil and gas clients insert this coverage in their plans while other companies have evacuation agreements with other contractors.

The oil and gas sector is making a comeback

It’s no secret that the oil and gas industry has taken a knock and that many companies have downsized their staff contingent in recent years. While it’s important for these companies to get the most out of global health plans for their employees, health care costs should not be the only consideration. Proper coverage must be factored in as access to quality health care is paramount and it should extend beyond health care benefits to provide optimum value.

When the oil price crashed in 2015, oil firms cut thousands of jobs with some of them reducing their workforce by 50%.  However, as the price starts to climb, the industry is looking forward to spending again.

Talent retention is a major concern for oil-producing companies. They fear that the employees they kept on during the price slump are now looking for work elsewhere as they are concerned about the industry making a comeback. For this reason, some companies have invested more money into benefits as they understand the need to retain workers during uncertain times.

Despite living abroad for many years, some expats in the oil and gas industry still get anxious about being away from their families and while employees who have spent most of their careers working overseas tend to cope better, millennials find it more difficult to adapt to the expat life. Given that companies in this sector have reduced staff in their international programmes and that outside of drilling contractors, most expat employees are between 35 and 54 years old, proper medical coverage is an important tool for recruitment and retention of key staff.

International employees have unique benefit needs and effective benefits’ packages should be responsive to the importance that expats place on health, wellness and safety programmes. While some companies are holding firm with regards to providing good benefit plans, managing global health benefits can be tricky and despite ongoing industry change, competitive benefits’ packages can help this sector during turbulent times.

Gilles Nyssens is an executive at Cigna Global Health Benefits®. Cigna Global Health Benefits® provides health solutions to hundreds of thousands of customers in the oil and gas industry in 136 countries. During the ongoing consolidation and stabilisation of oil prices

Cigna serves the oil and gas companies

Cigna is creating a deep understanding of how oil and gas companies are coping with these challenges in order to offer exceptional industry-relevant group benefits.

Cigna Global Health Benefits is a distinguished global health care provider which understands that there are many complexities to working and living in a developing region and they know that preparing employees on what to expect makes all the difference.

With more than 50 years of market leadership in providing medical insurance for more than 200,000 customers in Africa, Cigna has the knowledge and skills to design, and administer a global benefit plan to meet the dynamic needs of globally mobile employees and to ensure access to quality care. Customers of Cigna Global Health Benefits can also take advantage of these features:

  • Access to nearly 50,000 health care professionals in Africa, and more than one million doctors and hospitals across the globe;
  • A proven vetting process to ensure providers, clinics and hospitals offer the level of care expected;
  • 24/7/365 access to the Cigna Service Centre;
  • Communications and support during health outbreaks; and
  • Quick claim payments with 90% of customer claims being paid in 10 business days or less.

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