Voluntary health workers (VHWs) in Gbarma District, Gbarpolu County are now experiencing reduction in their monthly incentive giving by the Government of Liberia (GoL). In a chat with this writer, Mr. J. Mammoh Jah II, a lab assistant at the Gbarma Clinic, said the incentive for the VHWs has been cut down by US$20 by the government.
According to him, they previously used to make US$ 99 as a monthly incentive, but that was cut to US$79 by the Liberian government. “This is very unfortunate for some of us who continue to make sacrifices for our country. How does government expect us to cater to our family? How do we send our children to school? This is unacceptable that we are treated in this way,” said Mr. Jah.
Speaking last week via mobile phone, he disclosed that there are 28 health workers in the district, but only eight are on the GoL payroll. According to Mr. Jah, the other 20, including him, work on a voluntary basis, and were being paid only US$99 as monthly incentive.
He said cutting their monthly incentive by US$20 poses a great threat to the health sector of the district, because this situation could cause some volunteers to abandon their post. When contacted via mobile phone, the County Health Officer (CHO) of Gbarpolu, Dr. Anthony Tucker, confirmed the cut in the monthly incentive of the VHWs. But he said he does not know how much was cut from their monthly incentive.
According to him, the cut was due to the pulling out of an organization called African Humanitarian Action (AHA)-a health non-governmental organization. AHA, Dr. Tucker said, was the one providing the US$99 incentive to the voluntary health workers, and not GoL. Because the group left the district, he said the GoL decided to step in and in so doing, the GoL has a set standard of monthly incentive. “Before, it was an NGO. Now, it is the government which has a set standard for incentive, so our people need to understand these things,” Dr. Tucker added.
Gbarma is the third most populated district in Gbarpolu County with 15,972 inhabitants, according to the census conducted by the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) in 2008. Hence the ratio of citizens to one health worker is 507 to one.
The implication of low monthly incentive for the VHWs in Gbarma is troubling. Many may decide to leave the district or county to seek greener pastures, especially in private health facilities or with health NGOs. This could pose an adverse effect on district health system, particularly when 71.4% or 20 out of the 28 health workers in the district are volunteers.
Health workers are not the only public workers experiencing low monthly incomes. This is in all sectors of the government, including education, agriculture and security. The payment of low incomes becomes more of a problem when workers are not paid on time. Such irregular payment constantly leads to public service workers going on strike. Sometimes last year, VHWs at the James Davies Hospital in Paynesville downed their tools because they had not being paid by for several months.