Health workers in the country got something to smile about over the weekend when the Liberian leader, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, announced the payment of their two months’ salary arrears and other benefits owed them by the government.
The meeting, held with a cross-section of the country’s health workers at the Monrovia City Hall last Saturday, took into consideration issues relative to the healthcare delivery system of the country as well as the sacrifices they are making in the fight against the deadly Ebola virus.
The President urged the health workers to do more to kick the disease out of Liberia.
She paid tribute to all those health workers who have lost their lives as the result of the virus, and promised that her government would not forget them in their search for sustainability.
In March this year, the Liberian leader reminded the health workers about the danger of the Ebola virus whenever it came into any country, particularly a poverty-stricken country, such as Liberia.
“It is you who fight the disease, administer the necessary drugs to all those who are victimized by the it; and we are grateful that your efforts have enabled the government to begin kicking the virus out of Liberia.”
She stressed that the virus is posing a serious threat to national security and the welfare of the nation. “Because the people did not take the necessary precautions, they never believed or trusted the government and even health workers, because all kinds of stories were told to them. As the result, the disease has spread all over the place.”
To the health workers, the Liberian leader emphasized: “I don’t have to tell you because you know it better than I do, that you are on the front line and facing the worst part of it. You also are aware that we were not prepared to fight this Ebola battle—the materials, training the people, the expertise. And, so, our ability to do what we were able to do, we did it in March, because the way it was going we now find ourselves handicapped.”
Over the past few weeks, she, too, has being doing what the health care workers have been doing, examining what when wrong; how both the government and health workers can fix it; where they fell short and what they can do.
President Sirleaf said she had called meeting, to say all of the things that the health workers were already aware of, but she felt it was important for her to address them directly.
“I want to assure you that we are not ignoring your plights; we know them and we need to deal with them if you will continue to serve your country in rendering health services to our people.”
She continued: “We don’t have to make noise to do those things, because our concerns are the same, our responses have to be on the basis of agreement and consensus, and that is why this meeting became all the more necessary.”
She pledged that more personnel, more protective equipment (PPEs), among them, ambulances will arrive in the country on Monday from China. This will enable the GOL to increase the number of treatment centers around the country.
Earlier, on behalf of the health workers, the embattled secretary general of the National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NAWAHL), George Poe Williams, informed President Sirleaf that among the ‘minimum demands,’ were the reinstatement of the two officials, who had been summarily dismissed by Health Minister Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale.
Other issues Mr. Williams raised included of salaries and benefits, wherein he indicated that health workers were earning ‘peanuts,’ whereas their lives are at risk. “So, Madam President, we would like for you to address these issues.”
The two officials that were sacked by the Minister Gwenigale earlier this year are Joseph Tamba, president of the National Health Workers Association of Liberia, and the secretary-general, George Poe Williams.
Mr. Williams denied that patients had been abandoned by the health workers, but he emphasized the need for them to be adequately protected to combat the virus.
“We are not afraid to fight Ebola. We are obliged by our oath to serve our nation and our people. But we must save ourselves first before saving the lives of others,” he declared.
The meeting was characterized by interactions between the President and the health workers, who happily embraced her efforts to address them at such a mass gathering.