Liberian healthcare workers: the unsung heroes of the Ebola crisis

31 March 2016
PSI is proud to nominate two exceptional candidates for the WHO’s 2016 International Health Workforce Awards which recognizes outstanding health workers and individuals who have demonstrated significant achievements in the field of human resources for health (HRH). Both candidates are members of PSI affiliate the National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NAHWAL).

Liberia was the third country to be hit by the Ebola crisis in 2014-2015. Over 10,000 cases and almost 5,000 deaths were reported. Health workers in particular were severely hit due to the lack of personal protective equipment, medication and material, as well as knowledge of the disease.

Martha C. Morris, President of NAHWAL, Bong Chapter (far right in the photo above).

Martha is a dental nurse at the Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing.

Martha’s many achievements include successfully leading a health workers’ petition to legislature advocating for protective equipment and training of health workers. She was also instrumental in building an Ebola Treatment Unit in Bong and obtaining a salary increase for the workers.

Martha was among the 22 health workers to be dismissed following the February 2014 nationwide strike and while she was later reinstated she was not paid for 8 months.

“When I returned to work, my name disappeared from the payroll and for eight months I was working without pay. As a leader and an advocate, I lead the team that opened the Ebola Treatment Unite in Bong county, even though I was a breastfeeding mother of a six months old child. […] I was dismissed from the unit after a month because I advocated for the constant availability of protective equipment, better working conditions and better incentives.”

George Poe Williams, Secretary General, NAHWAL

George is a registered nurse and HIV/AIDS counsellor.

George has been tireless in raising the plight of the dying Liberian health workers both nationally and internationally. He has been in the forefront of the demonstrations calling for training of health workers, provision of PPEs and hazard pay for health workers as well as death benefits for the dependents Ebola health worker victims.

As the lead person in negotiations with government and other stakeholders he has been instrumental in obtaining the employment of a further 2000 health workers in 2013-2014, a salary increment for public health workers, Ebola hazard pay and annual leave.

George tells us that “These advocacies have not been without a price. My phone lines and e-mail are closely monitored, sometimes my lines blocked especially when international institutions like the BBC tries to interview me. Other times mails sent to my email never get delivered. I must always try to change my appearance to not be easily recognized. In July of 2012 I was served a double suspension for five months so as to discourage me from advocacy. Today it has been 25 long months (February 18, 2014) since I was dismissed for advocating for better working conditions and salaries for health workers in Liberia, and for a better Health Care Delivery System for my country.”

At the time of writing, George and NAHWAL President, Joseph S. Tamba have still not been reinstated.

PSI General Secretary, Rosa Pavanelli, has recently been appointed as a Commissioner on the UN High-level Commission for Health and Economic Growth, and said “The tragic consequences of the failures to invest in public health in Ebola affected West Africa reminds us that both the level of expenditure and the method of delivery matter for health outcomes. Public delivery is both more efficient and provides better health outcomes.”

PSI maintains that the goals of the UN will not be achieved without greater public investment. We need more health care workers, better trained and better supported if we are to deliver health care outcomes to those who need it.

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