Trust between health employees and government officials in Liberia has diminished to such a low degree that an attempt to pay Ebola health volunteers for their services in October resulted in violence, as government officials requests that workers both form tightly-knit lines to await payment and “avoid physical contact.”
The Liberian Observer reports that an organized attempt was made at Monrovia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to pay Ebola health volunteers– from workers who treated Ebola patients directly to contact tracers tasked with finding everyone exposed to the virus. The government had agreed to pay these individuals $80 for a month’s worth of a work. Hundreds of volunteers showed up, and were organized in six lines.
“They can’t be telling people in their communities to avoid physical contacts and they (volunteers) were now being told to stand in line when it would be impossible not to touch the other person before and behind you,” said one volunteer, the paper notes. The tension resulted in “fighting [breaking] out among the health volunteers, leaving the paying teams with no option but to suspend the process.”
One district supervisor explained the outrage: district leaders had been demanding an organized process in which government officials came to the areas where volunteers worked, rather than forcing volunteers to make the arduous voyage to Monrovia and wait in lines of hundreds:
The Ministry and UNDP should have arranged this payment process properly, because we made a recommendation that it be done in the various districts even if it takes two or three days. The fact is that everyone will receive their US$80, but they did not listen now we are being treated like children for our own money we worked for.
This is hardly the first time during the process of combating Africa’s worst Ebola outbreak in history that Liberian health care workers object to the government’s processing structure. In October, many of Liberia’s nurses threatened to strike, claiming they had not been paid for months of dangerous work in direct contact with Ebola patients. Members of the National Health Workers Association, who are not considered “volunteers,” but workers in medical fields anyway, at the time demanded $700 monthly for their work; they were promised less than $500 monthly and had received nothing. Reaching an agreement with the workers allowed Liberia to continue its operations to combat the Ebola virus.
Nearly every other nation affected by Ebola– including Sierra Leone, Spain, and the United States— have experienced some form of active protest from their medical professionals and temporary volunteers.