The US government has provided US$5 million grant to the government of Liberia to pay salaries for about 3,000 public health workers in the country over the next five months. The grant agreement was signed in Monrovia on Friday, September 19 between the US government through its Agency for International Development (USAID) and the government of Liberia to enhance the fight against the deadly Ebola virus epidemic in the country.
The signing ceremony took place at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning with Acting USAID Mission Director for Liberia Madam Barbara Dickerson and Acting Finance Minister Amara M. Konneh, respectively, signing on behalf of the US and Liberian governments.
But there is no allocation, however, for doctors and nurses working at private hospitals and clinics across the country. The government has meanwhile said it is working on a special package to subsidize private health centers and hospitals across the country.
With the closure of St. Joseph Catholic Hospital, the country’s biggest privately-own referral hospital in Monrovia following the deaths of several medical doctors and nurses to Ebola, many patients are left with no alternative, but to seek medical services at the government hospitals which are overwhelmed by Ebola patients. The US government has urged the government to pay the nurses’ and doctors’ salaries through direct deposit. The Liberian government is also yet to say whether it will increase public health workers’ salaries as it has been demanded from the new US grant.
Speaking at the ceremony, Acting USAID Mission Director Madam Dickerson assured Liberians that her government has made the fight against Ebola a priority and has committed significant resources through USAID in the tune of about US$75 million making the agency a significant contributor to the Ebola response.
According to the Acting USAID Mission Director, the US$5 million grant is just a part of the US government’s US$75 million support to the fight against the Ebola epidemic in Liberia through USAID. “We are here to work with you shoulder to shoulder until this Ebola epidemic is defeated,” she said.
Madam Dickerson also emphasized US government’s longstanding commitment to Liberia. She explained that USAID announced US$75 million to help with the Ebola response in Liberia earlier September following a request by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the American people to help Liberia fight the deadly Ebola virus. “Let me say that this money was made available at the personal request of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to USAID for help with the fight against Ebola,” she said.
In the grant agreement, the Liberian government committed to ensuring that all public health workers are paid through the government’s direct deposit program with leading banks in the country.
The USAID mission director noted that the grant agreement couldn’t have been signed without the outstanding efforts of the government to ensure transparency and payroll reforms.
Madam Dickerson praised the government of Liberia for its efforts to ensure payroll reform declaring that USAID and the US government have strong relationship with the Ministry of Finance and the Civil Service Agency of Liberia.
For his part, Acting Finance Minister Amara Konneh thanked the US government for the ‘timely’ budgetary support and told the American people that the grant money will greatly help to ease some of the constraints on the government’s wage bill.
“This money could not have come at a better time,” said Minister Konneh as he smiled and took in a deep breath. “This grant money will do a lot for our troubling economy.”
Liberia’s projected economic growth has been revised downward from 5.9 percent by International Monetary Fund (IMF) to as low as 2.5 percent for 2014. It has been projected to decline by 3.4 percent due to the Ebola crisis.
Many businesses have slowed down mainly in the extractive and agriculture sectors as leading companies have evacuated their expatriates to avoid being infected by the Ebola virus.
The hospitality sector is also badly hit as many hotels have shutdown due to the lack of clienteles. Mr. Konneh emphasized that the US$5 million grant will help the government pay basic salaries for public health workers who has direct deposit.
“Those health workers who are civil servants, but are not on the government government’s direct deposit program will be added to the program,” he said.
He disclosed that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning is currently working with the Civil Service Agency (CSA) and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW) to ensure that health workers in this category are placed on the program as soonest as possible. The direct deposit program is where the government pays salaries to workers through their (workers’) accounts at designated banks.
Members of the USAID delegation at the signing ceremony were USAID Health Team leader Madam Tara Malini, Program officer Mr. Edgar Thornton and Ms. Bethany Gaddis.