They were the heroes and heroines of yesterday in the fight against the deadly Ebola disease that ravaged Liberia and its neighbors. They kept the Ebola Treatment Units or ETUs operating, some as janitors, carpenters etc, but today the government has refused to take care of them after they took care of us all.
This has become the fate of thousands of hazardous workers from disbanded ETUs across the country, as hundreds of them again staged road blocks before the Ministry of Health in Oldest Congo Town outside Monrovia in demand of hazard pay from the very government that has insistently refused to look at them.
The aggrieved ETU workers had previously staged several protests both before the Health Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Capitol Hill to get the attention of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, January 6, 2016 before the Ministry of Health, a spokesperson for the aggrieved ETU workers, Albert Gaye, said people designated in the past to come represent their interest in Monrovia failed to get back to them, stressing the issue is about the plight of the people.
Albert says the third time they protested was at the Foreign Ministry when they met with President Sirleaf and informed her about their plight. He says the President gave them US$2,500.00 with five bags of rice and assured them that right after the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, their plight would be addressed by the Ministry of Health immediately.
“We did inform all of our colleagues, telling them to find their certificates in order for us to gather; this is what brought us here today, and as far as we are concerned, the Ministry of Health still owes us”, he maintains.
Responding to the protestors’ concern, the Minister of Health, Dr. Bernice Dahn explains, “Normally the Ministry of Health can have emergency and whenever such arise, we recruit health workers to address those emergencies”, and added that during the Ebola outbreak in the country, the ministry recruited health workers and asked expatriates to train them for deployment in various ETUs to help their fellow compatriots that were infected by the Ebola virus.
Minister Dahn noted that during studies in medical school, she took oath to serve humanity as a priority, adding “When there are emergencies, you forget about everything and address those emergencies because life is involved; everything cannot be money.”
She said those the ministry recruited and sent to Foya District, Lofa County received extra pay besides their regular salaries. She said based on the peak of the outbreak, President Sirleaf met with health workers and encouraged them to work, but they were asking for hazard pay and following the meeting, the President instructed the Minister of Finance to fine the money and Madam Sirleaf herself went out to mobilize funding from partners and donors to have the health workers paid.
According to her, some of the funds that were mobilized for this purpose came thru various non-governmental organizations and the Ministry of Health so the government sat with those partners and discussed how to pay the health workers.
“When we started paying the first group that was sent to Foya, we gave them US$750 per month, because normally, when we are sending health workers outside, we give them DSA. We felt that by going to places where you don’t know people, was going to be huge so we decided to give them flat rate”, the minister further explained.
However, she said when the workers began to ask for hazard pay, the partners asked the Government of Liberia to harmonize payment with neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea and that’s how the
$750 was reduced, but before the Minister of Finance could pay, he held a meeting with representatives of the health workers and they consented to the adjustment thru documentation.
Minister Dahn said all health workers were paid accordingly, adding, NGOs paid and government paid; nobody owes anybody. Is there anybody in this group, who did not get pay for working? If anybody, who earnestly worked and did not receive pay, you can write us and we will check our database and pay you, but if you sent me a letter and your name is not in our database it means you want to steal from us and we will prosecute you” she threatened the aggrieved health workers.
By Lewis S. Teh-Edited by Jonathan Browne