Ebola health workers ‘should get danger money’

An international health expert says health workers fighting Ebola should get incentives including better pay.

FILE: Patients suffering from Ebola sit at the French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders) Elwa hospital in Monrovia, on 21 August, 2014. Picture: AFP.

DAKAR - Doctors and nurses fighting the world's biggest outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa should get incentives including better pay, insurance and access to the new Ebola drug ZMapp, an international health expert said.

The haemorrhagic fever, spread through the blood, sweat and vomit of the sick, has killed more than 1,550 people since March, including more than 120 health workers. Many work long hours with no access to proper protective equipment.

Johan von Schreeb, who has travelled to the region to advise officials on how to manage the deadly epidemic, said if health workers were not protected and remunerated for their dangerous work, they could not be expected to report for duty.

"There has to be reciprocity for those that are taking a risk in getting involved in this epidemic and are working to control it. If you take risks, you should be paid," said von Schreeb, head of research on healthcare in disasters at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

"Modern mobile phone technology can be used to track who is coming to work as well as transferring money directly so they can be paid on a performance-based system on top of their normal salaries," he told Thomson Reuters Foundation from Sierra Leone, where he is providing technical support for the outbreak.

The government of Sierra Leone has come under fire for its handling of the Ebola outbreak. On Saturday, health workers went on strike over pay and poor working conditions at a major state-run Ebola treatment centre in Kenema in the country's east.

As well as holding formal walkouts, some health workers elsewhere in Sierra Leone, as well as others in Ebola-hit Liberia and Guinea, have simply not reported for work.

In Liberia, where infection rates are highest, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has issued orders threatening state officials with dismissal for failing to report for work or for fleeing the country.