Liberia: Disease Surveillance Officers Threaten To Boycott Work Over Delayed Incentives

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Monrovia – Liberia risks health crisis as health workers keeping surveillance on diseases are threatening to put a halt to their operations in all of the fifteen counties of Liberia.

Disease surveillance is an information-based activity involving the collection, analysis and interpretation of large volumes of data originating from a variety of sources. The information collated is then used in a number of ways to. Evaluate the effectiveness of control and preventative health measures.

Surveillance officers in the 15 counties are now threatening to halt surveillance activities due to delays in the payment of incentives and operational funds by the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), Ministry of Health and donor partners.

The surveillance officers indicated that they have not received incentive for December 2018, as well as the months of February and March 2019.

The officers also indicated that they have not gotten Operational Funds from NHPIL for the past six (6) months, July to September 2018  and January to March 2019.

Some of the aggrieved surveillance officers told FrontPageAfrica that health authorities including NPHIL and the Ministry of Health do not value the work they do as “gate-keepers”, evidenced by the strenuous condition under which they are reportedly working.

They complained that NPHIL and the Ministry of Health continue to make promises to them that never come to fruition, describing a recent comment by the former that the sector can boast of an “effective and strong” as a “mockery”.

In July 2018, surveillance officers and the NPHIL signed an agreement to settle to waive 13 months arrears owed the health workers.

Within this agreement, the latter party committed herself to pay monthly incentive and quarterly operational funds to enhance the work of the officers for July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. However, NPHIL has not lived up to the agreement have failed.

The District Surveillance Officers (DSO); Zonal Surveillance Officers (ZSO) have therefore vowed to hold all reports and/or seize all surveillance activities in the 15 counties until their arrears are fully settled by NPHIL.

The surveillance officers are therefore calling on the Legislature, stakeholders and other Health partners to speedily intervene and resolve the situation as the country risks being vulnerable to epidemic-prone disease in the absence of active disease surveillance.

“The issue of our incentive and operational funds as front liners in every disease response in Liberia remains in limbo despite all negotiations held by our representatives and that of NHPIL for an amicable resolution,” the workers said in a statement. 

On March 27, this year they wrote a formal communication to Dr. Masoka Fallah, Deputy Executive Director of NPHIL for his “timely intervention into the issue of their 80% incentive for December 2018” but to no avail..

“We hope that the issues of arrears for district and Zonal surveillance officers will be prioritized as failure by NPHIL to settle said arrears in the specified time period will leave the officers with no other alternative but to halt all surveillance activities in the fifteen counties and assembled at NPHIL’s Office on April 19, 2019 in demand of our just entitlement.” 

The surveillance officers have however written the House of Representative through its Chairman on health, Representative Joseph Somwarbi, calling on the lawmakers to intervene.

Hon. Somwarbi confirmed to FrontPage Africa that he received the communication, and promised to look into the matter upon the arrival of the Director General of NPHIL Tolbert Nyensua from abroad.

“We will invite him to answer to what the surveillance officers are saying, when he comes we will talk about it and you can now have more information on the story,” he told FrontPage Africa via mobile when he was contacted.

In response to the surveillance officers plights, Deputy Director General for Operations at NPHIL, Dr. Fallah confirmed that NPHIL still owes the surveillance officers some money.

Addressing the issue of the 80%, Dr. Fallah noted that NPHIL has concluded all of the documentation to start paying the 80% this April.

Commenting on the issue of operational funds, Dr. Fallah said due to the transitional period from the World Health Organization (WHO) to the World Bank, there were delays in paying the operational funds for surveillance officers.

“They all were being sponsored by the WHO before transitioning to the World Bank; so, the few months the WHO owes cannot be paid for by the World Bank, as you know they are two different donor groups,” he said.

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