Sierra Leone’s government and the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association (SLMD) are meeting on Monday to discuss how to end the strike called by health workers dealing with the coronavirus outbreak that has infected 1,542 people and claimed 62 lives across the country.Doctors treating COVID-19 patients have gone on strike since last week Thursday over what they described as “nonpayment of allowances to our doctors working in Treatment and Isolation Centers countrywide.”
“Our doctors are not going back to work until their allowances are paid” said Dr. Samba Jalloh, the SLMDA General Secretary in a telephone interview with the African Press Agency.
According to Dr. Jalloh, the $100 (Le1 million) weekly allowances to doctors working in COVID-19 Treatment and Isolation Centers had not been paid for the past three months, totaling to $1200 (Le 12 million) for each worker. Only $200 (Le2 million) was paid as allowance to centers at the 34 Military Hospital, Fourah Bay College (FBC) and Joue.
Secondly, the payroll tax waiver government promised to give health workers has not been respected. Moreover, health workers have always complained about poor working conditions such as low wages and lack of materials and drugs. Over 160 health workers have been infected by the disease.
The strike has left COVID-19 patients in some of the main treatment centers without care. Asked about the condition of coronavirus patients, Dr. Jalloh answered that he could not tell because their doctors are not seeing COVID-19 patients.
SLDMA argues that the government does not prioritize health workers working in the frontline to contain the disease because enormous resources have been allocated to other areas.
For example, the government used nearly $850,000 to purchase 30 new SUVs and 230 motorbikes for the Emergency Operation Center, Office of National Security, police force and military, according to the Ministry of Finance.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Finance always says payments to doctors delays primarily because they have to verify who was directly involved in the response to avoid ghost workers.
Dr. Jalloh said that the decision to go on strike was taken after a zoom meeting held by members of SLMD, where all participants unanimously voted for the action.
However, reaching agreement to end the strike at today’s meeting between the government and the SLDM is the outcome that COVID-19 patients are looking forward to.