ArcelorMittal Liberia health manager carried ebola to Nigeria

Patrick Sawyer, the ebola victim thought to have spread the disease from Liberia to Nigeria, was an employee of global steel major ArcelorMittal.

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Sawyer, who travelled from Liberia to Nigeria by air in July before dying of the deadly virus in a Lagos hospital, was ArcelorMittal Liberia’s public health manager, a spokesman for the company confirmed.

Sawyer started working for the company in April 2014 and fell ill after contracting the disease from a family member.

He informed his employers on July 9 that a family member had died of the disease, and was then referred by the company to Liberia’s ministry of health for daily monitoring.

ArcelorMittal said that it had requested that Sawyer not return to work until he had safely passed through a 28-day observation period, seven days longer than the 21-day period recommended by Liberia’s government.

Sawyer caught a flight from Liberia’s capital Monrovia to Lagos, Nigeria’s busiest city, on July 19 despite being ill. He died of the disease in Lagos hospital on July 25.

ArcelorMittal told Steel First that Sawyer was not travelling on company business at the time.

Local press reports suggest that Sawyer flew to Nigeria to seek health care of a higher quality than that available to him in Liberia.

The outbreak continues to accelerate, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, with 40% of the total number of cases having been diagnosed in the last three weeks of August.

According to WHO statistics, as of August 28, Nigeria had 17 known cases of the disease with five people reported to have died from it.

Sawyer has been reported as Nigeria’s “index” case for this outbreak of ebola in the country.

ArcelorMittal’s Liberia chief, Antonio Carlos, released a statement on July 25 to employees, since seen by Steel First, which said that Sawyer had died of the disease.

The steelmaker said that Sawyer had had “very limited contact” with his ArcelorMittal colleagues since contracting the virus, and its other employees in Liberia had all tested negative for the disease.

ArcelorMittal declared force majeure on the $1.5 billion second-phase expansion at its Yekepa iron ore asset in mid-August, citing the ebola crisis as the reason for halting work on the project.

The steelmaker continues to export ore from the first phase of the project, however.

A spokesman confirmed to Steel First on Wednesday September 3 that mining and shipping operations were continuing “as normal”.

The worsening outbreak of the disease has had material consequences on miners in the region, but iron ore continues to be exported from most operating mines.

West African iron ore miners African Minerals and London Mining, both operating in Sierra Leone, have been hit by costs and logistics issues due to the outbreak of the disease.

Neither has reported ebola cases among their workforces to date.

Indian miner Vedanta confirmed last week that it had evacuated all ground staff from its development-stage Liberian iron ore operations.