Monrovia – Several health workers in Liberia are demanding risk benefits for their role played during the fight against the deadly Ebola virus. The health workers gathered before the National Legislature holding placards and chanting slogans as they pushed their demands. Some of the placards had wordings including “Ebola is leaving because of us, where is our benefits, our risk benefit is our concern not violence, after risking our life we are crying for benefits”.
The spokesman of the group Alphonsus Weah said, their group has been engaging the Ministry of Health for the past three months with no positive result. Weah said, the gathering is meant to draw the attention of the legislature and the public about the challenges they are encountering in getting their risk benefit. “There was a contract that was signed between the Ministry of Health and the ETU workers, all we are doing is that we are requesting for our just benefit”, he said.
The spokesperson for the health workers said, they were promised US$5,000 as risk benefit, something he noted that the government is reneging to do. Weah said that the action of the government is frustrating health workers, adding that if it cannot be addressed by legislature they will get in the street. “I’m broken down that we have to go through all of this just to get our benefits after serving our country,” Weah said. He continued “If nothing is done we will get in the street, people like to see things going out of hand before addressing it,”.
The threat of protest by healthcare workers in demand of their benefits is not strange to Liberia, during the heat of the Ebola outbreak, healthcare workers threatened to stage a go-slow in demand for hazard pay as the government and the United Nations through related agencies intervened to prevent strike action. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has helped the government in paying thousands of Ebola health workers and health- care providers. In January of this year, UNDP paid thousands of dollars in cash to health care workers. The payment process began on January 5, 2015 around the Country.
The healthcare workers were hired during the Ebola crisis to help run treatment centres, help communities prevent transmission and track people that have had contact with the victims. Many have worked tirelessly without pay for months as the country struggled to cope with the epidemic. At the start of payment by UNDP, Project manager for the health worker payment Stuart Kefford said, determining who should be paid was one of the biggest challenges. “One of the biggest challenges was determining who should be paid. At the start of the process, we didn’t even have a list of names” said Kefford.
“We worked with the Ministry of Health and the county health teams to develop the lists. Then we had a list of names and pay rates for different job categories but still needed to verify that the people identified for payments were those that were working”, he added. Kefford further added “It was only after two months of work, travelling across the country to remote regions, verifying the lists, talking with NGOs to make sure people weren’t getting paid twice, that we were able to start the actual payments”.
The head of UNMIL in Liberia Karin Landgren addressing the United Nations Security Council recently highlighted the plight of health workers in Liberia. Landgren said that at least 160 health workers have contracted Ebola and 80 have died in the epidemic. Landgren called the outbreak a “latter-day plague” that is growing exponentially. She told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that most health workers have gone for long stretches without proper protective equipment, training or pay.
Published: 12 April 2015. By Al Varney Rogers
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