Doctors, govt clash over pay for Ebola frontline workers

Members of the Ugandan Medical staff of the Ebola Treatment Unit stand inside the ward in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Mubende Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda on September 24, 2022. PHOTO / AFP

What you need to know:

  • Medics say denying risk allowances to their colleagues has affected the quality of care to patients. 

The Uganda Medical Association (UMA) has clashed with the Health ministry over risk allowance and compensation plans for health workers managing patients with Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). 
Addressing journalists in Kampala yesterday, Dr Samuel Oledo, the UMA president, said health workers who are treating EVD have not yet signed or received any risk allowance from the government. 
“The Ministry of Health has not provided a clear compensation plan for health workers who are dedicated and risking their lives at the front lines in this tough battle against EVD, a disease with a very high fatality rate,” he said.
Dr Oledo said this has demoralised their colleagues and affected the quality of care being offered to patients.
“Let the humility, the sacrifice and ability of health workers to give themselves to serve the nation not be taken as a witness of ignorance or inability to understand what they rightfully deserve. When it gets out of hand, we shall also get out of hand, which we don’t think you would wish us to do that,” he said. 
Two health workers have died of Ebola while 65 have been quarantined because they are contacts of the victims or were exposed to the virus, according to information from the Health Ministry. 
The disease has killed eight out of 38 confirmed cases, meaning it kills around 21 percent of those infected, according to the Health ministry. 

This is several times higher than Covid-19 case-fatality rate which is at around 3-5 percent. 
Dr Oledo also questioned the ministry over their failure to compensate families of health workers who died in the line of duty during the Covid-19 pandemic. 
Dr Aaron Nahabwe, the UMA head of welfare, said during Covid-19, the government was paying doctors a risk allowance Shs80,000 per duty.
 “But part of this money has not been paid up to now. A doctor would do like three sessions per week. They were cutting 30 percent of the Shs80,000 as taxes, so one would go home with Shs50,000 per session,” he told this publication. 
However, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the spokesperson of the Health ministry, dismissed the UMA leaders’ assertions. 

“All the teams of health workers working in the Ebola treatment units are receiving their allowances. We acknowledge the concerns of UMA but all these issues are being addressed,” he said. He didn’t reveal the amount. 
Mr Ainebyoona said the compensation of families of health workers who die in the line of duty is being discussed because it requires a multi-sectoral approach. 
Dr Asaph Owamukama, the head of senior house officers (SHOs), asked the government to give monthly payments to all the officers. SHOs are doctors who are doing further studies to become specialists, and are attached to hospitals as part of their course requirement. 

Dr Owamukama said about 1,000 officers, only 65 percent are paid by the government yet they work in hospitals that they are attached. 
He said Dr Mohammed Ali, the 37-year-old Tanzanian doctor who died of Ebola in Uganda two days ago, was one of the health workers who was not being paid by the government. 
Dr Ali has been pursuing a Master of Medicine in Surgery course at Kampala International University. 
“The government is only paying those SHOs who are in public universities. Refusing to pay other  SHOs is exploitation because we are qualified health workers who offer care. SHOs who are getting payment earn Shs2.5m per month,” Dr Owamukama said. 

Dr Oledo, however, said the Health ministry has provided Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to facilities in affected districts, an action he said will minimise infections among health workers. 
“This should be trickling down to other health facilities. All regional referral hospitals should be equipped with PPEs to be able to fight this disease. We have free movement of people and so a case can be detected anywhere,” he said. 
The UMA president also asked the health workers, who handled Ebola in the past, to support the government in the response.