Sierra Leone Covid-19 responders strike over unpaid risk allowances

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Health workers put on protective gear before entering a quarantine zone at a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district in Eastern Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic on December 19, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Health workers put on protective gear before entering a quarantine zone at a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district in Eastern Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic on December 19, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Work on Sierra Leone’s Covid-19 pandemic was partially paralysed on Monday following a strike by frontline workers who were protesting over non-payment of risk allowances.

The aggrieved workers, who are mostly surveillance officers and contact tracers, refused to attend the usual morning briefing, from which the daily update on progress in the national Covid-19 response is collated.

As a result, Monday saw one of the lowest recorded number of new positive cases at four.

‘SITUATION UNACCEPTABLE’

Although officials of the National Covid-19 Emergency Operation Centre (Nacoverc) did not say if the low number of cases had anything to do with the strike, a spokesman expressed concern over the “unacceptable” situation.

Nacoverc is a temporary agency that works in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

Many of its field workers are volunteers, hired during emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic. They are key in response efforts. They also deal directly with people in quarantine.

HUGE RISK

These aggrieved workers said there is a huge risk involved in their work that requires the government to give them timely risk allowances.

Monday’s protest comes after repeated promises by the government to pay them their allowances, about two months after an agreement was reached with their representative bodies.

The government had blamed the delay on an ongoing verification process.

PROPER VETTING

Nacoverc spokesman Soloma Jamiru said Monday that given the high number of volunteers involved in the work, the government deemed it prudent to ensure proper vetting before it could issue payment, hence the continued delay.

He noted that the workforce captures a good number of volunteers who did not have a government PIN Code and that there was genuine concern about the implication of making payments without following due process.

But the official assured them that all efforts were being put in place to ensure they receive their pay before the end of the week.

The strike is the latest in a string of events that have cast doubts on the capacity of the national covid-19 response team.

QUARANTINE PROTESTS

There have been series of reports of protests in quarantine facilities over lack of adequate support to people held there.

Two weeks ago, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone published a report that painted a dire situation in quarantine homes, including non-provision of food and poor sanitary conditions.

Some quarantine residents also complain of prolonged stay in isolation due to delay in giving out test results. This has been attributed to lack of sufficient surveillance workers.

As of Monday June 1, Sierra Leone’s cumulative confirmed positive cases stood at 865 and 46 deaths, with 475 recoveries.

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