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Health Crisis: re-engaged health workers, not threats

Amid the Ebola epidemic in the country, most Liberian health workers have embarked on a strike action as a result of the inability of the Government of Liberia to actualize its commitment. The government had earlier promised to pay health workers hazard salaries and death benefits, beginning September this, but to no avail.

When I talk about strike by health workers, I don’t talk about it as a minister, but as a health worker because myself had been a health worker for many years; as health workers, you need to have love and passion for your work,” an emotional health Minister Walter T. Gwanigal told an Information Ministry special press briefing on Ebola Monday, October 13, 2014 in Monrovia, threatening to dismiss all striking health workers, if they did not return to work.

But the President of the Health Workers Association of Liberia, Joseph Tamba, to a local radio phone-in show that they would continue their strike action until their demand was met by the Government of Liberia. At  such trying and difficult time of our nation’s history when we have lost more than 2000 of our compatriots, including health workers in our battle against the deadly Ebola disease, a way to have avoided a strike action by health workers should  have been instituted long before.

For the government, through Health Minister Walter Gwenigale, to thrive on the path of threat in the wake of the strike action, is only tantamount to endangering the lives of hundreds of patients at the various public health centers and Ebola Treatment Units or ETU across the country. While the Government of Liberia may be overwhelmed by the current health (Ebola) Crisis and that such action by health workers may also be frustrating, the government must also exercise the highest degree of persuasion for a common ground, other than threat of dismissal that could be considered as its sensitivity to the plights of health workers.

When the Minister of Health of Liberia tells striking health workers: “when you decide to come back, there will be no space for you; because after I have begged people to replace you, I will not drop them because you have come back,” what resolution is he seeking to such conflict amid the deadly Ebola Crisis with which the nation is engulfed?

As much as it is an acceptable fact that these health workers are under oath to save lives, it equally an acceptable fact that they deserve to be paid for their services, especially so when there is genuine commitment on the part of the government to pay them “hazard salaries and benefits” for six months, beginning September. While it is true that they took oath, is the government not cognizant of the fact that these health workers have families and responsibilities?

As ‘foot soldiers’ in the ‘war’ against the deadly Ebola virus disease, the plights of health workers needed to be adequately addressed to avert any future embarrassment as our nation is faced with in the eyes of its international partners. The plights of health workers have been a longstanding issue before the Ebola outbreak in March of this year, as evidenced by their numerous strike actions attributed to the “same-old salaries and benefits”- situations that would have been addressed ever since to prepare the government for what’s obtaining now.

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Our current national efforts must be above emotions and threats as a way of fostering collectivism in our strife to over the national health crisis on hand. Our efforts must be renewed to rally the national unity so desired in our ongoing ‘war’ against Ebola; and so, our appeal is for the Government of Liberia to take time and re-engage the health workers so that our people at the various health centers and Ebola Treatment Centers across the country will not succumb to Ebola- and doesn’t mean that the government is weak or the government has lost- no!

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