Health workers in Kenema, Sierra Leone, say they have not been paid their hazard allowance for seven weeks.
Bodies of Ebola victims have been dumped outside a hospital in Sierra Leone by burial workers, who are protesting at the failure of authorities to pay them bonuses for their hazardous work, residents have said.
Tensions in the eastern town of Kenema reached new heights with the action by members of the burial teams. Local residents said three bodies were abandoned in the hospital doorway, preventing people from entering. There were reports that 15 bodies in total had been left in the street.
Healthcare workers have repeatedly gone on strike in Liberia and Sierra Leone over lack of pay, unfulfilled promises to pay them more and their dangerous working conditions. Two weeks ago, health workers walked out of the Ebolatreatment centre in Bo, the only one in southern Sierra Leone, over the same issues.
A spokesman for the striking workers in Kenema, who asked not to be identified, said they had not been paid their weekly hazard allowance for seven weeks. Authorities accepted that the money had not been paid but said all the striking members of the Ebola burial team would be dismissed.
“Displaying corpses in a very, very inhumane manner is completely unacceptable,” said the spokesman for the National Ebola Response Centre, Sidi Yahya Tunis.
The head of the district Ebola response team, Abdul Wahab Wan, said the bodies had included those of two babies, and some had been displayed around the hospital.
The pressures on burial teams and health workers in Sierra Leone are severe as the case numbers continue to climb, in spite of a slow-down in neighbouring Liberia. Official figures from the World Health Organisation on 21 November showed there have been 6,190 cases in Sierra Leone, including 136 healthcare workers, and 1,267 deaths. There have been 15,351 cases and 5,459 deaths reported in the Ebola outbreak in total so far. The true figures are expected to be far higher.
Public Services International (PSI), a global trade union federation, has launched a video to name and honour 325 health workers, including doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and cleaners, who have died of the disease in the three worst-hit countries. According to the WHO, 588 healthcare workers have been infected and 337 have died. Some will have lacked the personal protective equipment needed to do their job safely.
The federation said the “grievously high loss of lives” revealed a failure to invest in public health systems in the three worst-affected countries.
”In some places, we are definitely going to make it: we see some really good impact of the efforts of the national authorities and the United Nations system,” he said.
“It’s clear where there are escalating cases rapidly accelerating the spread of the disease, and where we don’t have the response capability on the ground, and that’s definitely the case in some places, we’re not going make it.”
The areas of greatest concern are in rural parts of Sierra Leone, the city of Makeni in the centre of the country, Port Loko in the north-west and the capital, Freetown.
Millions of dollars in aid have been pledged, troops have been sent by the UK and the US, and volunteer health workers are slowly arriving, but the epidemic in Sierra Leone is yet to show sign of abating.