The Ebola virus outbreak’s toll in West Africa has expanded at such a grand scale that the devastation has begun to vary from country to country. Liberia has experienced some reduction in the acceleration of cases, but Sierra Leone’s condition worsens, just as health workers reportedly strike for unreceived pay.
Describing the situation on the ground as “catastrophic,” Rony Zachariah of Doctors Without Borders warned this week that Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak was particularly devastating, and government had, to some extent, contributed. Zachariah noted that the official numbers coming out of the nation were “under-reported”–something for which local media has been condemning the government for months–and that entire communities had been completely destroyed. “There are several villages and communities that have been basically wiped out,” he explained. “In one of the villages I went to, there were 40 inhabitants and 39 died.”
It is in this context that the Awareness Times, Sierra Leone’s largest newspaper, reports that “over one thousand” health workers are going on strike.
“Over one thousand workers at the Ebola treatment centre have gone on sit down strike demanding their one month backlog,” reports the newspaper, referring to the Kenema Government Hospital, one of the most active Ebola treatment centers in the country. The health personnel, which reportedly includes “burial teams, drivers, surveillance officers and a host of other teams who prefer to remain anonymous,” have refused to work until they receive their salaries, demanding that the risk they place on their lives interacting with Ebola patients be recompensed. They have taken to chanting “no pay, no work” during their protests.
The Awareness Times also reports that the number is significantly lower than the total number of health workers who have not received pay. The government confirmed that workers in “over 800 communities” have not received weekly salaries for more than a month.
The article ends ominously: “Meanwhile a team of police personnel arrived at the Kenema Government Hospital to quell down the situation as it was gradually becoming riotous.”
The issue of public order has plagued Sierra Leone’s Ebola efforts potentially more than the other affected countries. Sierra Leone’s Ebola workers have gone on strike before–most notably when burial workers refused to handle the bodies this October. Ebola patients have become their own concern, as well. In one prominent case, a riot broke out in response to healthcare workers attempting to come to the aid of a well-known neighborhood gangster’s 91-year-old mother.
The prominence of healthcare workers and a strong medical infrastructure are directly correlated with the ability to control the outbreak; the difference between contamination incidents in Spain and Liberia, for example, makes the case clear. Yet another strike in Sierra Leone’s hospitals could potentially wreak even more devastation than the current outbreak has already done.