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Health workers worry as MSF downsizes staff

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Health workers here are in complete worry as the French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres downsizes some 38 contractors from Ebola Treatment Unit in Foya, Lofa County as a result of stabilizing infection rate there.

On Monday, 20 October MSF project coordinator in Foya, Serge ST-Louis, told President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that the ETU which serves as referral for Ebola cases for three districts in Lofa, including Kolahun and Vahun has  less than 10 cases that could be discharged, and there was no new case for the past 26 days.

But the Foya ETU national supervisor, Darlington Jallah, told President Sirleaf that some 38 staff from Voinjama and Monrovia, who were among contractors hired to work in the Foya ETU when it had about 140 patients and understaffed, have now been “downsized” by MSF because the case load has dropped.

Besides, Mr. Jallah wondered why after saving the lives of about 143 patients, government would not maintain nurses working in the ETU for the past two months, including August and September, as those downsized “go home without pay.”

He said since government asked them to work at the MSF-run ETU in Foya, the charity has told them that there is no MOU signed between it and Liberian authorities, questioning the President as to what is being done for their risk benefit and deceased health workers.

But earlier, the MSF project coordinator in Foya Serge ST-Louis said national staffs have been receiving pay, and that internal arrangement between the Ministry of Health and the MSF has been finalized to pay the staff for September.

A  representative from the Ministry of Health’s Incident Management System, who only preferred to be called “Foot Soldier” said this week, they are going to sort out the problem in Monrovia, saying they have had meeting with MSF to come to a common ground.

She confirmed that because the case load has dropped, “they [MSF] will be reducing the number of staff in the treatment unit,” describing it as “fair enough.” But Health Ministry official concluded that when the need arises, MSF will pull the [downsized] staff back, saying “those who they’re putting down will then go back to the primary facilities – in my understanding.

In President Sirleaf’s response to issues raised by ETU supervisor Jallah, she said all nurses who were on government payroll before the Ebola crisis are supposed to be getting their pay without any problem. But regarding the ETU situation, she said people who were just trained for ETUs are not yet on government payroll because they were not nurses, and they are going to get the same hazard pay like everyone else.

“If they want to stay with government in the health service, then they got to be put on the payroll. Because to get government pay, you got to be on government payroll,” she said.

As for death benefit, President Sirleaf said government has already decided on US$5000, but some negotiations are ongoing because others are saying it is not enough. She however clarified that the money for Ebola is secured and not about budget shortfall, saying health workers should get their pay.

The Liberian leader said it took some time for government to negotiate with the health workers because there were times they wanted to strike. Regarding incentives, she said nurses who have been working for the government are entitled to getting two pays, which she said include their regular salary and incentive “in keeping with what was negotiated.”

“If they haven’t gotten those two, then I’m glad the Ministry’s representative is here then we need to and straighten that one up,” she said.

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