Liberia: Responding to the Plight of Our Southeastern Health Workers

Ministry of Health, Congo Town, Monrovia Photo Credit: LiberiaInfo

Health workers in Liberia’s southeastern counties of River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Kru and Grand Gedeh counties, have recently ended nearly three weeks of protest in demand for better pay and working conditions.

This is the result of many meetings between them and the Ministry of Health with the commitment that their demand for better pay and working conditions be met.

The Ministry, according to an agreement reached between itself and the southeastern health workers, also commits itself to kickstart salary increments for those in hard to reach counties as well as the issue of disparities among health workers and the inclusion of volunteers in the country’s health system.

The health workers from River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh and Grand Kru counties in the southeast have been protesting that those with different academic qualifications are earning less than US$250 as salaries while working 24 hours a day amid limited staff.

They have further complained that there are too many volunteers in the various facilities, which are making the regular workers’ tasks ineffective, while pensioned staff are yet to be replaced. 

The issue of volunteers is a tough one.  Because of the severe scarcity of jobs at this most difficult time in our country, the masses of unemployed find themselves compelled to visit various workplaces in the hope of making themselves available and “useful,” in the hope that someone will see their usefulness, pity their condition and give them something to do, even on a part time or non-regular paying basis.  

It is a fact that Liberia’s southeast is one of the hardest places to reach, because most of the roads in this area are unpaved or poorly constructed.  The situation becomes worse during the Rainy Season, making the laterite roads that dominate the terrain in most parts of the country practically impassable without extreme difficulty.  

There are clouds of dust during the Dry Season and lots of water during the Rains, making travel extremely difficult in both seasons.        

During the rains, travel can be extremely slow for two reasons: first, the water often makes passage very difficult because water and laterite are not compatible.  The water quickly washes away the laterite, creating huge   holes and ditches on the terrain, forcing   vehicles to stall for hours, if not days, while travelers strive to create bypasses in order to continue their journeys, or wait for the rain to cease.

Secondly, the laterite roads, severely wet with water, become very slippery, causing vehicle operators to travel very slowly, lest they quickly hit another vehicle or slide off the road into a ditch, or even turn over.       

There are also times when the water overwhelms the terrain, causing traffic to become very slow, because it takes time and effort to traverse the water   that floods the roads.  

Quite often, when the rains are very heavy, the roads become practically impossible to pass because there is just too much water, forcing motorists, especially those traveling up country, to park their vehicles for hours, if not days, until the water subsides or the mud is cleared.  

One day in the early 1980s in Monrovia, it rained so heavily, lasting for a full seven days.  At one point, our newspaper, the Daily Observer, was forced to come out with the headline, “Monrovia Awash with Floods.”

The government—and private industry as well—should think seriously about the welfare of its workers in the counties and up country and make it easy for them readily to accept jobs outside the coastal counties.  Let us face it: most people would prefer to remain in the coastal counties to work rather than travel up-country.  This is because of the better amenities along the coast, especially running water, easier transportation, better schools for their children and the far better social environment.  

This reality challenges the government to work conscientiously to improve the socio-economic conditions around the country, so that people might find it easier choosing to agree to work anywhere in the country — whether on the coast or in the interior.  This means that the government and private enterprise should expand up-country, providing employment opportunities beyond the coast and thereby bring better development opportunities all over the country.  The government, being the biggest and foremost employer, should lead the way and encourage private industry to do the same, so that job and other opportunities may be evenly spread out throughout the country.

This will be a forceful catalyst to national development.