Lagos Ebola volunteers threaten strike over lack of payment

An Ebola patient being attended to
An Ebola patient being attended to

Dozens of volunteers at the Infectious Disease Hospital, IDH, of the Yaba Mainland Hospital, Lagos, where patients down with Ebola Virus Disease, EVD, are receiving treatment have threatened to stop reporting to their duty posts over non-payment of their emoluments by the Nigerian government.

PREMIUM TIMES investigations revealed that the volunteers are being owed over two weeks of their daily entitlements by government.

On Friday morning, two patients were still in the hospital’s isolation ward – a clergyman who had prayed for Iyke Enemuo, the Rivers State-based medical doctor who died of the virus; and Dr. Enemuo’s wife who had contracted the virus.

By Friday evening, the clergyman was discharged from the centre after his test results returned negative, leaving Mrs. Enemuo as the only patient in the ward.

It was gathered that while medical doctors and nurses who had volunteered to attend to patients down with the Ebola virus are being paid N50,000 and N40,000 per shift respectively; the monies have not been forthcoming since a fortnight ago.

Other low cadre workers at the IDH such as the ward attendants and laundry men who take care of the patients’ laundry have also not been paid.

“The place is tough at the moment, no communication from the top to the ground, most of us have worked for two weeks without pay,” a volunteer who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation, told PREMIUM TIMES.

“And not just without pay, initially, what was agreed was that at the end of each shift, you take your pay and go home.

“Right now they are just compiling, they are not paying us, we just work and go home, and this is like over two weeks now, no pay, and nobody is addressing us whether pay is coming or not.

“The most painful aspect of this whole thing is that all of us that enter and take care of these patients, carry their shit, you know they stool a lot, clean them up, do all the necessary things, that treated these people are the people suffering now.

“But those people who call themselves the officials, the truth is that they don’t even witness how these Ebola patients look like, they’ve not even seen them. They don’t enter inside at all, they don’t go in, they don’t dress in that hood (Personal Protective Equipment). They don’t go close to the patients,” the volunteer added.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that volunteers at the IDH are spread across three shifts daily – morning (8 a.m – 2 p.m), afternoon (2p.m – 7 p.m) and night (7 p.m – 8 a.m).

Each volunteer works two or three shifts weekly.

“Once your shift is over, you hand over to the people coming to replace you, collect your pay and go home. Sometimes they compile two or three shifts before they pay. But this time around it’s clocking two weeks and we have not heard or seen anything.

“Yesterday (Thursday) everybody was agitating. People don’t know who to complain to. Nobody is happy. They were swearing at the officials, that how will they risk their lives to do this and at the end of the day they are being victimized. Had it been that they are addressing us, it would have been a different thing.

Last month, the Lagos State government had announced that in conjunction with the federal government, it would provide life insurance to health volunteers at the IDH.

According to Jide Idris, Lagos State Health Commissioner, the insurance is part of his government’s plan to protect citizens from EVD infection and has been developed for implementation at all levels.

“To ensure the effectiveness of the response strategy, volunteers are being deployed to support several areas of work,” Mr. Idris, a medical doctor, had said.

“While volunteering is usually done as a means of giving back to society, the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Lagos State Government have partnered to make available some compensation packages as a means of demonstrating our gratitude for your selfless services.

“The hazardous jobs will have hazard packages that include life insurance,” Mr. Idris had added.

But several volunteers interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES said that one month after the promise, they are yet to be briefed about their life insurance packages.

“Nobody has told us anything concerning it (life insurance),” another volunteer told PREMIUM TIMES.

“We didn’t see anything about insurance. What they did was that at a particular time they just brought one volunteer’s form and we just filled the form and gave them back. Since then nobody has mentioned anything concerning it again.

“Even when you try to approach them to find out if the pay is coming or not, they become hostile to you. And yet work is going on, we come to work, do your work, and go home,” she added.

The volunteers also accused one Dr. Abdulsalami, one of the senior officials at the IDH, of being hostile to them whenever they attempt to enquire about their emolument.

“Dr. Abdulsalam is the one that relates between us and the state. He normally brings our pay,” one volunteer said.

“He has not told us anything to hold on, rather he’ll tell us that there is no money and if you try to talk further he will be hostile to you,” he added.

Phone calls and text messages to Dr. Abdulsalami were unanswered, so also were phone calls and text messages to Dr. Idris.

But Faisal Shuaib, Head of the Ebola virus Emergency Operations Centre in Lagos told PREMIUM TIMES that the claims were untrue.

“Every documented, verified volunteer is being paid handsomely. I am sure you know this,” Dr. Shuaib said in a text message response.

“Let them show you evidence that they were engaged as volunteers and working actively for the past two weeks. If they have been working, they deserve to be paid for their sweat. If they haven’t, then they are trying to play on your intelligence,” he added.

While angry reactions trailed the unavailability of the N1.9 billion released by President Goodluck Jonathan for the management of Ebola, the Health Minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, denied the money was for the management of the virus.

According to Prof. Chukwu, a medical doctor, the N1.9billion approved by the president was for the federal ministry of health.

“It is not for Ebola fund. It will be used to procure more vehicles for working which have been ordered. It would be used to procure more drugs that have been ordered…and other items,” he had said.

Some of the volunteers also allege that names of some selected colleagues from amongst them are being forwarded to the federal government for further remuneration.

“Among the volunteers, there seem to be a kind of list they carved out from the volunteers’ list. They are saying that the federal government promised to pay at the end of the exercise,” a volunteer told PREMIUM TIMES.

“They now selected their favourites and people they feel will trouble them and forwarded their names as people that will receive the money from federal and now claim that the rest of the people, that the state is settling them, whereas they have seen nothing. They made a new list and included those names. They have already taken their account numbers and processing their payment.

“They said they only had some people the federal have mapped that they are going to pay, that the state has claimed that they are paying us,” the volunteer added.

But Dr. Shuaib dismissed the claims, stating that he would “walk a thousand miles” to ensure that all volunteers receive their remuneration.

“Go and find out if these claims are true, and if you want to excel in journalism, be professional. Find out the right way, not by asking people if they have been paid.

“Investigate and find out that there is something that is wrong going on and then I’ll follow it up,” he added.

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