The National Primary Health Care Development Agency has said that it is sourcing for funds to clear backlog of payments of allowances owed thousands of midwives across Nigeria.
The agency blamed the delay in the release of the 2015 budget for its inability to pay the workers, who have been owed for nine months.
The Executive Director, NPHCDA, Ado Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES that although the agency had promised it will offset the payments, it did not expect the delay in the passage of the 2015 budget.
The Nigerian government had in April promised to clear eight months – now nine months – arrears owed midwives employed under the Midwives Service scheme after PREMIUM TIMES reported the huge indebtedness.
The payment, the government said, was to be made by May, according to a communique signed by Mr. Muhammad, the National President of the MSS, Grace Shamonda, and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Linus Awute.
The parties said the allowances were owed by the agency due to the delayed passage of the national budget and agreed that, “The allowances will be paid upon budgetary release within May, 2015”.
They agreed that the federal ministry of health through the National Economic Council will prevail on state and local governments to offset all outstanding allowances and make available good accommodations, good working environment among others for the midwives as stated in the memorandum of understanding signed by all parties in 2009.
However, since the 2015 budget is yet to be passed, the agency said it is already making plans to source for funds to clear the debt owed the midwives.
The MSS was established in 2009 and is managed by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency to address the high rate of maternal and child mortality in Nigeria.
A 2014 World Health Organisation report said Nigeria lost about 40, 000 women during childbirth in 2013, second only to India.
Mr. Muhammad said, “We have been making effort to see how we can get the funding, you know there has been challenge with the budget release and we gave that assurance based on the fact that we trusted we would have had the budget released but unfortunately we don’t have that yet.”
He said Mr. Awute who is presently in charge of the health ministry pending the appointment of a minister is also working very hard to see how funds can be raised.
“The midwives are very dear to us, they are very useful and have added value to maternal and child survival in Nigeria. We have been talking to them, pleading with them to remain at their duty post and continue with the sacrifice they have been making attending to Nigerian women and children. We commend them for their understanding,” Mr. Muhammad said.
The MSS Secretary, Rose Chinyam, also told PREMIUM TIMES that the situation is a terrible one and that her phone rings all the time as midwives in various locations call her to find out when payments will be made.
She said she has always been encouraging them to stay on the job, exercise patience as the agency has promised that they will offset the backlog of the allowances once it receives funding.
“Many of the midwives have been calling and calling and I keep encouraging them to exercise patience. The budget has not been released as the agency expected. We believe something will be done soon to clear the payments,” Ms. Chinyam said.
However, another midwife said it does not make sense that she and her colleagues are being owed for so long and asked if the non-passage of the budget will also affect the payment of the agency’s staff.
In reaction to the plight faced by the midwives, a health policy consultant, Felix Abraham, told PREMIUM TIMES that is embarrassing for midwives who provide critical health services to Nigerian women and children in dire need are being owed salaries for services rendered.
He said the midwives had either in one way or the other sacrificed a lot to save pregnant women and children, adding that without the commitment of the midwives, the MSS programme which has notably helped Nigeria reduce the number of maternal and child would have packed up.
Mr. Abraham, however, said the federal government should not be solely blamed for the terrible treatment meted out to the midwives. He admonished state and local government areas where these midwives are most needed to contribute some percentage of the salaries based on Memorandum of Understandings that were signed at the beginning of the scheme.
He said, “While states may be complaining of cash crunch due to dwindling oil revenues, I believe the provision of essential services to mothers and children remain a high priority and I doubt if paying midwives should be put-off for any reason.”
“The question is, besides the contribution of NPHCDA in the payment of salaries, have the states and LGAs been meeting their own part of the agreement to cost-share? More so, the responsibility of providing the services belong to the LGAs which are under the control of state governments,” Mr. Abraham said.
He added that the earlier these midwives are paid, the better for Nigeria’s health system.
“Otherwise we’ll experience a policy failure due to loss of motivation and interest in the scheme by other midwives who could have joined the programme. Those who work and sacrifice their comforts to save lives need to be rewarded and supported to continue in their good work!” he said.
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