Monday, October 13, 2014

Liberia: Medical Workers Threaten National Strike Unless They Receive High-Risk Compensation

According to AFP, Liberia on Monday (October 13) faced a nationwide walkout by healthcare workers demanding danger pay to care for Ebola patients, in an epidemic that has already killed dozens of their colleagues.
The new infection dealt a blow to global efforts to stem an outbreak that has claimed more than 4,000 lives, most of them in the west African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and the hardest-hit, Liberia. The threat of a large-scale strike came as the CDCP scrambled to find out how a Texan healthcare worker contracted the deadly virus, in the first case of contamination on US soil.
Monday's strike call in Liberia came in defiance of an official request to avoid industrial action during the Ebola crisis, which has killed more than 2,300 in Liberia and challenged it nominal health service.
The chairman of the Liberian health workers' union, Joseph Tamba, said the walkout concerned "every hospital and every health center including ETUs (Ebola Treatment Units)."
Healthcare workers on the frontline of the worst outbreak on record of Ebola, which spreads through contact with bodily fluids, with 95 killed in Liberia alone, according to WHO (the the World Health Organization).
With monthly salaries said to be as low as $250 (200 euros) a month, calls are mounting for pay commensurate to the acute risk of dealing with Ebola, for which there is no vaccine or widely-available treatment.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf acknowledged as much last week, telling a World Bank crisis meeting there was an urgent need for "compensation to healthcare workers who, for fear of the risk involved, have refused or are reluctant to return to work."
Staff at Island Clinic, the largest government-run Ebola clinic in Monrovia, has been on a "go slow" since Friday for high-risk compensation. Liberia has banned reporters from Ebola clinics, making the claim impossible to corroborate.
Both cases of contamination reported so far outside Africa--in Spain last week and now in the United States--have involved health workers, who fell ill despite the stringent safety protocols surrounding Ebola. 
Authorities in the US blamed a safety breach as they confirmed the first case of transmission at the weekend, in an unidentified female caregiver who treated a Liberian Ebola patient in Dallas.
Dan Varga, chief clinical officer for Texas Health Resources, said the woman was "following full CDCP precautions"--which would have included wearing a mask, gown and gloves.
Yet, head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), Dr. Thomas Frieden MD, insisted that "at some point there was a breach in protocol." As the CDCP investigates, President Barack Obama ordered federal authorities to take "immediate additional steps" to ensure hospitals were ready to follow Ebola protocols.
National Nurses United, the largest US nurses' organization, is demanding protective equipment, including hazardous materials suits, and special Ebola training. "The time to act is long overdue," said executive director RoseAnn DeMoro.
COMMENT: I don't share the same confidence that many in the US have to contain what is emerging as a global Ebola threat in a world where government employees are compensated to "show up."
I continue to advocate and support the minority of physicians who strongly suggest that the citizens and residents of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea be prohibited from traveling internationally while enabling Ebola specialists to travel unrestricted to these three nations to render medical aid.
The latest US Ebola victim, who worked at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, is currently in isolation and said to be in a stable condition.
Even World Health Organization (WHO) chief Dr. Margaret Chan MD voiced confidence that developed nations would be able to contain the virus. "We are living in a highly connected world, it shouldn't come as a surprise that some cases of contamination are happening, like it happened in the US," she told reporters.
The official reassurances were unlikely to calm global jitters about Ebola, whose rampage through west Africa has defied all efforts to contain it so far.
JFK Airport in New York City became the first of several US air hubs to launch health screenings for travelers from West Africa, to be checked for signs of illness and quizzed about possible exposure. Other nations have instituted similar checks.
Leading Italian football club AC Milan "categorically denied" reports that a Ghanaian player, former Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, had contracted Ebola. Essen posted a photograph of himself giving a 'thumbs-up' pose.
In Spain, the crisis cell set up after a Madrid nurse fell sick said there was "reason to hope" she could recover. Teresa Romero, 44, the first person infected with the haemorrhagic fever outside Africa, is thought to have contracted it while caring for a Spanish missionary.
Romero has said she thought she might have developed Ebola after brushing her face with a glove--pointing to possible gaps in protocol. Fifteen other people are under observation in Spain.
The United Nations says aid pledges to fight the epidemic have fallen well short of the $1 billion needed, leading Dr. Chan to warn Monday of far worse to come for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. "If nothing is done by the international community we will and we should expect many more cases happening in these countries," she said.

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