The Liberian government’s promise to build a resilient health care delivery system after the recent deadly Ebola scourge may be unsuccessful if the current trend of miserable pay and incentives for health professionals are not addressed.
There are increasing fears that health care professionals with Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees who are paid L$20, 705 per month and an incentive amount of a meagre US$23.22 may abandon their posts at the various government hospitals and set up their own private ventures, the Daily Observer has learned.
Health workers at the government hospital in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, whose incentives have dropped from US$134 to US$23.22, in addition to the impact of the current fall of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar, are finding it tough to make ends meet.
“A 25kg bag of rice that was sold at L$1,300 is now L$1,600,” commented a health care worker in Tubmanburg yesterday. “How do we manage the huge increase with the uncontrolled rise of the US dollar against the Liberian dollar?”
The health worker, who preferred anonymity for fear of a reprisal, said though she possessed a Master’s degree in the sector, the government has refused to pay her commensurate with her qualification. She is paid at the BSc degree holder’s government salary.
“It simply shows how we healthcare workers are treated as we are supposed to be by the government,” she said. The only solution, she said, is what other health care professionals have done, which is to leave their posts and start their own drug stores.
She said the reduction of their incentives started gradually each month, when messages were sent out from the government to the banks where their monthly salaries are deposited.
“We got information that the reduction was to help the Ministry of Health bring up additional health care professionals to the system,” she said. And even if that is the case, the new recruits may come to find out that they deserve more than what they would be paid by the government.
She explained that while they had hoped their salaries would have been increased, along with their incentives, “we began to receive text messages about the reduction without any prior notice.”
Although before last year our salary was at US$134, by February 2015 the pay had been reduced to US$79.97. It was later reduced to US$39 and now stands at US$23.22, which she said is one sure way the government is telling her to leave the profession.
“One can make a change as an accountant or as a professional in any of the major fields of study,” she said, “but not when you are a health care worker and you are involved in caring for people who are sick.”
Other health care workers said it is unfortunate to be a health care worker since the government does not seem to know how important they are in the rebuilding of a resilient health care system.
“The government has made great pronouncements of rebuilding a robust health care system,” one said, “and sometimes I feel that the Ministry thinks making such pronouncements can make some difference, which they do not.”
Another worker said the recent Ebola experience should make it clear that inaction, poor pay and unattractive incentives prove that Liberia is not serious to make the required changes to ensure that the next time a serious outbreak occurs the healthcare workforce will be ready to tackle it.
Many of the health care workers are appealing to the Liberian government to get its priorities straight, particularly in how health care workers are treated, along with their compatriots in the education sector.
The MOH is yet to address the issue of inadequate pay for health workers, since its director for communications, Sorbor George, could not be reached for comments as his mobile phone was switched off up to press time last night.