The United Nations development Programme (UNDP) has helped the Liberian government pay thousands of Ebola workers. Over $1 million dollars in cash payments were distributed across the country in January alone.
The workers were hired at the height of the crisis to help run treatment centers, help communities prevent transmission and track people that have had contact with victims. Many worked tirelessly without pay for months as the country struggled to cope with the epidemic.
“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 Stuart Kefford, UNDP’s project manager for health worker payments. “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.” “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” Mr. Kefford said.
Having located the right employees, the next challenge was to get them paid. Banks were not an option, Mr. Kefford explained. “The banking system has never been profitable. Liberia is primarily a cash-based economy and around half of the health workers don’t have bank accounts. Most people outside Monrovia tend to survive on a day-to-day basis and there is little need to open a bank account, so the only answer was to take cash out to these people”.
Teams visited every county, working late into the night to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to the most remote areas so the workers could finally be paid everything they were owed. In Lofa County, where Ebola was first detected in Liberia, the lack of pay was starting to have an impact.
“It started to get difficult to keep people motivated,” said G. Garpu Morris, a District Health Officer. “They were committed to getting rid of Ebola, but they were struggling financially themselves.”
“Now we’ve been Ebola free for a month, we’ve reached a new stage in the response – we need to stay vigilant, test people at the checkpoints, monitor anyone who comes to our district and ensure that the health workers are there to respond when people come to clinics with symptoms” he added.
Garmai McKay Subawo manages the contact tracers in Salayea District. She hadn’t been paid since August, but has now received $1200 for her four months of work. “This will make it much easier to get the contact tracers out there in the communities so that Ebola never returns to Lofa” she said.
The project was conducted in partnership with the United Nations Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER).
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