Health Volunteers’ Payment Ends in Fist Fights

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A commotion broke out on the grounds of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare yesterday when authorities of the Ministry and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) attempted to pay hundreds of community health volunteers their incentives.

The volunteers from Montserrado County Electoral District numbers 4, 5, and 7, were told to converge on the grounds of the Health Ministry so that they could be paid for the month of October 2014. They included Contact Tracers.

The incentive payment to these Liberians is an initiative of UNDP to support health volunteers in the fight against the deadly Ebola virus disease.

After the payment process started, some of the volunteers began complaining that the process was too slow and was not “being done the right way.”

They had been told to stand in queues of six in order for the process to be quick and smooth.

However, some began to complain saying that “they can’t be telling people in their communities to avoid physical contacts and they (volunteers) were now being told to stand in line when it would be impossible not to touch the other person before and behind you.

Some began suggesting that since it was hard to avoid touching under those conditions, it was necessary for the paying teams to go into their individual districts to pay them.

The situation became tense and fighting broke out among the health volunteers leaving the paying teams with no option but to suspend the process.

The Assistant Minister for Preventive Services, Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah, tried to intervene but all efforts to bring the situation under control proved futile as volunteers resorted to fist fights.

Several volunteers expressed dissatisfaction over the process stating that the fighting was due to lack of proper management by the health authorities.

“The Ministry and UNDP should have arranged this payment process properly, because we made a recommendation that it be done in the various districts even if it takes two or three days.  The fact is that everyone will receive their US$80, but they did not listen now we are being treated like children for our own money we worked for,” District #4 Zone 3 supervisor, Mr. Stanley Nowon said.

He described the process as “poor preparation” stating that they should be treated with respect because they are at risk as they go about doing their voluntary jobs.

He appealed to the MOH and UNDP to find a solution to the problem.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chea Sanford Wesseh, head of the Contact Tracing and Assistant Minister for Statistics at the Ministry of Health said the volunteers had been told to tell community dwellers to avoid physical contacts, which is one of the ways the virus spreads from one person to another. He said they were also trained to carryout contact tracing, case management and report back to the health authorities.

 Min.Wesseh told reporters that the payment which was being done by UNDP is important to help the health volunteers continue their sacrifices in eradicating the virus.

“So we will work along with UNDP to find the best solution for the payment of these volunteer health workers,” he said.

Also speaking to the Daily Observer, Ms. Zinnah Benson, Administrator, MOH/UNDP, Community-based Initiative Project, disclosed that payments will resume today, 9 a.m. at the same place.

Ms. Benson however stated that the 121 volunteers from district 7 and 60 persons from district 5 would be served. She said that meetings were still being held to decide how to pay district 4.

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