As many health workers in Liberia continue to provide services to their country for months without pay following the outbreak of the Ebola crisis, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as a contribution to the Liberian government, has paid over US$1 million to at least a thousand Liberian Ebola health workers.
The US$1 million in cash payments was distributed across the country in January alone.
The workers were hired at the height of the crisis to help run Ebola treatment centers, help communities prevent Ebola transmission and track people who had contact with victims.
Stuart Kefford, UNDP's Project Manager for Health Worker Payments, said the biggest challenge was determining who should be paid, adding that initially, there were no lists of names of the health workers.
“We worked with the Ministry of Health and the county health teams to develop the lists. Then we had a list of names and pay rates for different job categories but still needed to verify that the people identified for payments were those that were actually working.
“It was only after two months of work, travelling across the country to remote regions, verifying the lists, talking with NGOs to make sure people weren't getting paid twice, that we were able to start the actual payments,” Mr. Kefford said.
He explained that, having located the right employees, the next challenge was to get them paid and Banks were not an option.
“The banking system has never been profitable. Liberia is primarily a cash-based economy and around half of the health workers don't have bank accounts. Most people outside Monrovia tend to survive on a day-to-day basis and there is little need to open a bank account, so the only answer was to take cash out to these people”.
The UNDP payment teams visited every county, working late into the night to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to the most remote areas so the workers could finally be paid everything they were owed.
In Lofa County, where Ebola was first detected in Liberia, the lack of pay was starting to have an impact.
“It started to get difficult to keep people motivated,” said G. Garpu Morris, a District Health Officer.
“They were committed to getting rid of Ebola, but they were struggling financially themselves.”
Lofa DHO disclosed that the county had been Ebola free for a month and that they have reached a new stage in the response which, he said, needs to stay vigilant, test people at the checkpoints, monitor anyone who comes to our district and ensure that the health workers are there to respond when people come to clinics with symptoms.
Garmai McKay Subawo, who manages the contact tracers in Salayea District, spoke of the many sacrifices she has made since the Ebola outbreak. For example, she said, she hadn't been paid since August.
Garmai thanked UNDP for the payments, noting that the money will help in the process of getting the contact tracers in the communities to fight vigorously to maintain the low number of Ebola cases in Lofa.
The Health Workers Payment Project was conducted in partnership with the United Nations Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER).