African Minerals Ltd., the iron ore miner and biggest contributor to Sierra Leone’s economy, is randomly testing its workforce to help combat an outbreak of the Ebola virus that’s killed 20 people in the country.
“We are working very, very closely, on a daily basis, with the government of Sierra Leone and the World Health Organization,” Frank Timis, African Minerals’ executive chairman and founder, said yesterday in a phone interview from London where he recently returned from a four-day trip to the West African country. “At the moment we have not one case,” he said, adding the mine, port and rail operation is unaffected.
The country has tested 193 suspected cases of the disease with 83 confirmed, Miatta Kargbo, minister for health and sanitation, told lawmakers in the capital Freetown today. That’s up from the 157 suspected cases, 62 confirmed and 19 deaths reported yesterday. The virus has no approved drugs or vaccines and kills as many as 90 percent of those infected.
“It’s not affecting our operations in any way; actually, we are going quite well,” Timis said. “We are monitoring the situation on an hourly basis, on a half-day basis, every day through the whole system.”
African Minerals has been in Sierra Leone since 1996 and is the country’s largest employer with about 6,850 workers running its $1.7 billion Tonkolili operation, where shipments started in 2011. Timis is the largest shareholder with 12.7 percent of the stock, which has plunged 65 percent in London this year. It fell to a five-year low today.
Employees have their temperature taken before they start their shift and 15 medical staff, working along the 200-kilometer (124-mile) route from mine to port, are randomly stopping workers on a daily basis for spot temperature checks, Timis said.
Sierra Leone reported its first Ebola cases late last month, marking its spread to a third West African nation in the worst outbreak of the virus in seven years. The latest began in neighboring Guinea, where at least 208 have died, according to the World Health Organization. Infections have also been reported in Liberia.
“We started to put very, very strict and appropriate processes in place as soon as Guinea came out and that’s quite a few months back,” Timis said. “In our camp I can tell you that the discipline related to this is No. 1.”
He praised the efforts of Sierra Leone’s government in responding to the virus and doesn’t believe international travel will be restricted. African Mineral’s Tonkolili operation has an annual export capacity of 20 million metric tons of iron ore, used to make steel.
London Mining Plc, the second-largest iron ore producer in the country after African Minerals, said June 3 that a number of non-essential personnel had left the country after it imposed voluntary travel restrictions. At the time there were just six confirmed deaths from Ebola. The company said its Marampa mining operation was unaffected.
A spokeswoman for London Mining declined to comment when contacted today.
Ebola is transmitted to human beings through the blood and secretions of wild animals. Humans transmit the virus to each other through contact with blood and other body fluids.
The virus is characterized by the sudden onset of fever, weakness and muscle pain followed by vomiting, diarrhea and impaired liver and kidney function.
African Minerals closed unchanged in London trading at 69.25 pence after earlier falling to the lowest since April 2009. London Mining declined 6.6 percent to 28.50 pence, the lowest since it first sold shares in 2009.