|KALUMBILA, ZAMBIA – As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year, management at First Quantum Minerals (FQM) has taken stock of its integrated response and the systems the procedures that have helped it successfully tackle the human and business risks from the disease.|
With stringent control measures put in place to deal with the threat of the pandemic to keep employees and surrounding communities safe, the company has not slowed production and in indeed Kalumbila-based Sentinel Mine hit its highest production in 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic.
Kalumbila Minerals Limited Assistant General Manager Junior Keyser said that for the business to continue, the mine had to keep producing copper even in the midst of the pandemic.
“We later realised that management had to take the lead and we quickly established a steering committee consisting of members from different departments. So we used this committee to develop strategy based on what we saw internationally and information from other sources as there was no definite example to use. We had to supplement government efforts, and worked fast to establish isolation facilities in preparation for cases”, said Mr Keyser.
Mr Keyser said the company suspended all international travel and many experts were locked inside and outside the country. He said although the pandemic has affected many people who either got infected or lost family members, the company performed very well and attained its highest performance ever.
Mr Keyser said the company appreciates the Government’s stance to keep supporting companies and keep businesses running. He mentioned that FQM has rendered significant support to the Government such as setting up isolation facilities, educating communities about COVID-19, provision of PPE to health workers, and ongoing food deliveries to the Lumwana isolation facility. He commended Mary Begg clinic for ensuring infections were lowered to negligible levels.
On preparations for a possible third wave, Mr Keyser said the company and the clinic were ready, because experience and many lessons have been drawn from the first and second waves.
Dr Felix Zikamabahari, who is part of the COVID-19 team at Mary Begg clinic in Kalumbila town, says combined efforts between the management of Kalumbila Minerals and the clinic have made it possible for COVID-19 cases to be managed effectively in the area.
Dr Zikamabahari said when the disease was declared a pandemic, FQM started putting in place measures to deal with the imminent crisis while the clinic carried out a risk assessment to ascertain who was at high risk and how best to deal with confirmed cases. The FQM Health Department also conducted a vulnerable patients’ identification process.
“A lot of changes were put in place based on the data that we were monitoring from affected countries and also information coming from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Ministry of Health. A team of health workers from the clinic was trained, while FQM assisted with infrastructure. By March 2020, FQM management had allocated places to use as isolation centers so that by the time we had our first confirmed case in May 2020, we were ready”, said Dr Zikamabahari.
Dr Zikamabahari said the clinic got its first severe case in August 2020, followed by asecond wave in November when the cases increased. He said fortunately, the world was at the peak of learning the science surrounding COVID-19 and a lot of research had been done and information on its management was available.
Dr Zikamabahari said the clinic had challenges when samples were sent to Ndola, which took up to 14 days to provide results, but after FQM was granted permission to test, turnaround time has been reduced to a maximum of 48 hours, which quickens the response time and hastens decision-making so the company benefits by having all negative-testing employees back to work in no time.
“Even if the second wave was worse than the first, we were better prepared for it. Apart from providing medication, we were very careful not to send any infected person back into the community if they could not self-isolate for at least two weeks. Mary Begg was prepared with a case management team and dedicated doctors who are specifically assigned to COVID-19 patients. This has helped us to build experience and consistency of care and management of cases”, said Dr Zikamabahari.
He said educating the public has been done consistently with the help of the FQM Health Department, and people have been adhering to preventive guidelines. Dr Zikamabahari said a few more people however need to be educated about handling those who have recovered from COVID-19 as there were reported cases of stigma. He said that people needed to know that every time someone is discharged and sent back into the community, they are unable to transmit the disease to other people.
COVID-19 survivor Mirriam Harmon, was grateful for the care she received while admitted to one of the isolation facilities provided by the mine to Mary Begg clinic.
“At that time, people I knew started dying and I really smelled death; my oxygen saturation levels were extremely low; I felt weak and breathing became tedious. I am grateful for the care I received as I was one of the most critical COVID-19 patients in isolation. Above all, I cannot forget to thank my God for answering my prayer and using the medical personnel to heal me,” said Mrs Harmon.
|About First Quantum Minerals LtdFirst Quantum Minerals Ltd is a global metals and mining company producing mainly copper, gold and zinc. The company’s assets are in Zambia, Spain, Mauritania, Australia, Finland, Turkey, Panama, Argentina and Peru.|
In 2020, First Quantum globally produced 779,000 tonnes of copper, 265,000 ounces of gold and 13,000 tonnes of nickel.
In Zambia it operates the Kansanshi mine – the largest copper mine in Africa by production – and smelter and the Sentinel mine in Kalumbila.
The company is listed on the Lusaka and Toronto stock exchanges.