Health and Social Welfare Minister, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, has thrashed the main demand of the striking National Health Workers’ Association of Liberia (NHWAL).
Dr. Gwenigale, who did not mince his words when he spoke Monday, October 13, during the regular press briefing at the Ministry of Information Culture and Tourism, told the health workers that their demand for the re-instatement of Mr. Joseph Tamba, president and Mr. George Poe Williams, Secretary General and spokesman, would never be honored.
“To those of you striking because you want those two men back, you better just stay home forever because they are never coming back to work with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare,” Min. Gwenigale told the striking health workers.
Both Tamba and Williams have since been fired from their respective posts at the National Malaria Control Program and the James David Hospital for over a year. However, the striking public health workers still regard both men as their leaders even though they (Tamba and Williams) are no longer officially in the employ of the public health sector.
The health workers, especially the ones at the largest Ebola treatment unit (ETU) at the Island Clinic of 150-bed capacity at the moment, are also demanding that monies deducted from their September hazard pay be refunded to them.
The Health Minister assured them that every health worker affected by the cut would be reimbursed. He appealed to them to return to work in order to save lives that they swore to protect. Dr. Gwenigale’s statement was buttressed by the Acting Finance and Development Planning Minister, Dr. James Kollie.
Reacting to Dr. Gwenigale’s statement that they would ‘never return’ to the Ministry of Health, NHWAL Secretary General Williams told our Health Correspondent via phone that “never” belongs to God and that a “mortal man should not use it because things can change around.”
He said with that pronouncement from Min. Gwenigale, he was left to wonder what could be the way forward.
Asked whether the strike was ongoing he said “yes, but there have been numerous calls coming from international partners asking us to relax our action. So, we have informed our colleagues at various ETUs to remain and help save the lives of those who came in before the strike began.”
He stressed that his colleagues at the ETUs have been warned not to take in new victims even if there are empty beds.
At the moment, the immediate impact of the workers’ action might not be felt, but in the coming days if new victims are not allowed to be admitted to the ETUs, Liberia could return to the situation a few weeks ago when dead bodies were found everywhere in homes and communities. This will increase the risk of more infections of the disease, which has so far killed at least 2400 in confirmed, probable and suspected cases in Liberia between March 22 and October 7.
Meanwhile, Mr. Williams disclosed to the Observer that he fears for his life. “Someone told me that there is a secret arrest order for me and Tamba. I am not on the run, if the security wants me, I can turn myself in but hunting me secretly is worrisome for me and my family looking at our country’s history,” he stated, emphasizing, however, that he was not afraid of being arrested.