Kenyan tragedy a wakeup call for expatriates with no health insurance

Think of a growing economy in African and Kenya is bound to be high on the list. Kenyan national statistics show GDP growth of over 5% in the first quarter of 2013 and 4.3 per cent in the second quarter which put many mature Western economies to shame. Democratic, growing and stable, the capital Nairobi is home to many regional corporate offices and has thriving European and US expatriate, student and NGO communities. Many come for the lifestyle too, which has long been recognised as relaxed and very attractive. Recently, several large Western-style malls have sprung up offering families the chance of a day out shopping, eating or going to the cinema.

The Malls are busiest on Saturday mornings when local shopper numbers are boosted by large numbers of expatriates who call the Kenyan capital home. However, Kenya has long displayed huge disparities in wealth, leading to an ever present threat of robberies, car-jackings, and home invasions. Homes are hidden behind high walls, often topped with razor wire. Home alarm systems and lockable safe rooms are essential in many houses rented to foreigners. Restaurants popular with expats are hidden from the street outside. Kenya too is a front line State in many other ways – with an army active in Somalia, Operation Linda Nchi ("Protect the country"); is the codename for a co-ordinated military operation between the Somalian military, the Kenyan military and the Ethiopian military that began on 16 October 2011, when troops from Kenya crossed the border into the conflict zones of southern Somalia.

The soldiers were in pursuit of Al-Shabaab militants that are alleged to have kidnapped several foreign tourists and aid workers inside Kenya. Kenya is no stranger to terrorist attacks either. In 1998, Al Qaeda’s first major international strike was the twin bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing more than 200 people including 12 Americans. Four years later, jihadists trained in Somalia tried to down an Israeli jet with a rocket-propelled grenade, and they crashed a truck full of explosives into a Kenyan hotel on the Indian Ocean, leaving 13 people dead. Against this background, or perhaps because of it, the country remains a popular destination for working expatriates and NGOs.

The recent tragedy of the Westgate shopping Mall illustrates brutally the importance of expatriates in the community. Of the estimated 67 dead, around six are known to be British, with a similar number of UK citizens still missing. With a heightened country risk profile, life insurers such as Friends Provident International have withdrawn life insurance for expatriates living and working there, so where does this leave those needing protection, for example in the area of international private medical insurance? When countries are experiencing civil unrest or perhaps in the immediate aftermath of a major conflict, many expatriate health insurers will classify such situations as having a ”passive war risk” and as a result will limit cover available. For foreign workers of all nationalities, this presents significant problem and can act to deter workers from moving to such places to carry out vital reconstruction and development work at precisely the time when it is most needed. Debbie Purser, CEO of  international private health insurance experts April International UK comments, “Passive war is a specific term used in the industry to describe a heightened risk which may be due to a number of factors. For the expatriate worker it is vital to check whether their international medical insurance cover is still valid or limited in any way. At April International UK, we offer full passive war cover, meaning if you are unlucky enough to be taken ill or injured in such circumstances, your policy will still be active.”