At least 300 protesting Ebola treatment unit (ETU) workers over the weekend forced Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF) ELWA-3 ETU facilities handing over ceremony to the Ministry of Health to be postponed indefinitely.
The former Ebola health workers were contending that the GOL owns them six months of unpaid wages — hazard pay, they claim — that the government promised every health worker directly working in the frontline of the Ebola virus crisis in the country.
According to Amara U.G. Sambola, leader of the protestors, the affected health workers are about 700 and they comprised both workers from the GOL-run ELWA-2 and MSF-run ELWA-3 ETUs. Sambola, however, clarified to the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview Friday, April 17, that they don’t have any problem with MSF. “MSF paid all the salaries to those of us, who worked with them,” he added.
Giving reasons why they decided to disrupt the handing over ceremony, Sambola stated: “This is the best day to peacefully demonstrate because all the major health stakeholders, including the officials of the Incident Management System (IMS), are going to come here for this program. They need to know that the government still owes us our hazard pay.” He told this newspaper that they had long since made their claims known to the Ministry of Health but there was nothing being done to address them.
Even though he said they were assembled peacefully, protesters were visibly seen blocking entrances to the MSF’s ELWA-3 run facilities.
Representatives of foreign missions and international humanitarian organizations, including a Chinese delegation, were forced to turn back when the demonstrators could not back down to allow them enter the fence.
When the dust had settled a bit, MSF’s Emergency Coordinator in Liberia, Mariateresa Cacciapuoti told the remaining guests and staff, who braved the storm and stuck around, that she was very sorry for the incident and that the turning over ceremony was postponed to an undisclosed date. She, however, encouraged the guests to take a tour of the remaining facilities.
Still around was a former Ministry of Health official, outgoing Minister for Administration, Mr. Matthew Flomo, and Dr. Saye Dahn Bawo, Assistant Minister for Curative Services and Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Republic of Liberia.
Following Madam Cacciapuoti's remarks, Dr. Bawo, who was the only senior government official there, also expressed his regrets to the guests for the incident. He told the audience that the claims by the protesters were “something new” to him. He promised to put their concerns to higher-ups at the Ministry.
About the MSF ETU
If the facilities had been turned over to the Ministry of Health, it would have run them as a temporary Ebola management center.
The ETU, which was closed and subsequently decontaminated on March 25 by MSF, presently has 30 beds with a capacity to increase to 60 beds if needed.
ELWA-3 has been the symbol of a long and incredibly difficult battle against Ebola for the aid agency.
At the height of the Ebola crisis in September and October 2014, the facility had a 250-bed capacity. According to some sources, ELWA-3 was the largest Ebola management center ever built.
Since MSF opened the facility on August 17, 2014 until March 10, 2015, a total of 1917 patients were admitted. Of that number, 1234 tested positive for Ebola; 801 confirmed patients died while 512 recovered.