Minister asks healthcare workers not to take advantage of COVID-19 pandemic to make unrealistic demands

By Chimwemwe Njoloma, MANA

Minister of Health and Population, Jappie Mhango has called upon healthcare workers in the country not to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by making unrealistic financial demands.

Mhango made the remarks this week in Lilongwe when he toured an isolation centre at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) as he was being briefed about the challenges managers are facing.

Health Minister Jappie Mhango

He said he aware of the situation that many healthcare workers in other countries are saving across the globe where they have ended up being infected in the course of offering their services to COVID-19 patients and that some have lost their lives.

He said no government would want to risk lives of their health personnel, hence it ensures that all necessary personal protective equipment is available in all hospitals.

“Our economy is not resilient enough to accommodate hefty demands and my appeal to them is to always be reasonable in their demands,” Mhango said.

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He said the essence of one being a doctor is to continue practicing and not collapsing the whole system because of Coronavirus. 

The Minister said no one knows how long the virus will continue to ravage the world but he reminded the health workers that there is tomorrow and if the economy is run down in the name of Coronavirus, the same people would protest against the effects they want to create today.

“We rely on donor aid and currently, even the donors have been affected, hence our government cannot commit to meet the demands,” he said.

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The health workers are demanding a $200 allowance per day, which is equivalent to MK150,000 and working for 21 days.

Briefing the Minister on the demands brought to her office, Director of Health Services for Bwaila Hospital, Alinafe Tambala said the health workers who were on duty refused to get the MK150,000 package for working for two days in the isolation centre.

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She further said the health care workers then agreed to put their tools down and demanded the MK150,000-offer as a daily allowance.

They also demanded to be paid for working in the self-isolation as they would count it as if they are still on duty since they will still be away from their families.

Tambala told the minister all health workers have now boycotted anything related to the COVID-19 and that none of them was going to work in the isolation centre until their demands are met.

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She said her office has no capacity to commit to such hefty demands, adding that the demands needed the attention of the Ministry of Health.

The Minister has since advised the Director of Health Services to document the complaints as soon as she can so that they can be tabled to the Special Cabinet Committee on COVID-19 to see how best they could handle the issue.

Nevertheless, he said having listened to the complaints, they are genuine and that government is in a position to revise the current rates to something reasonable.

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Commenting on the issue, District Commissioner (DC) for Lilongwe, Lawford Palani said the Council cannot commit to such huge demands, saying it would end up emptying its coffers.

Palani said he has nothing against the health workers demanding a revision of the risk allowance and their daily allowance, but said the demands are way too high for Malawi’s economy.

“We have all worked so hard to make sure that the isolation centre at Bwaila is completed and that it is in operation.

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“The challenge in front of us now is that health workers have put their tools down,” he said.

Currently, the health workers are also waiting to receive communication on the new rates for their risk allowances which they had asked government to revise from MK1,800 per day to a reasonable rate.

At Chikwawa District Hospital, health workers also boycotted work on Wednesday, citing poor working conditions and lack of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

The health workers conducted peaceful demonstrations to deliver their petition to Chikwawa District Commissioner (DC), in which they outlined a number of issues in relation to their safety amid COVID-19.

Chikwawa Hospital health workers presenting
their petitions

They warned never to return to work until their demands are met, saying: “We can’t continue risking our lives performing normal duties for fear of contracting the virus and we won’t go back to work if no tangible decision is reached.

“We have a huge responsibility of ensuring that our patients are safe. We also need the same safety. 

“On top of that, the work we are doing around COVID-19 needs some risk allowances which we are asking all those concerned to consider this is done,” said a representative of the grouping, who asked for anonymity.

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The workers claim to have engaged the District Health Management Team but said all they had in return were threats which prompted them to present the petition to the DCs office.

Part of their petition calls for government to provide them with enough working tools on top of asking it to provide them with risk allowances.

Speaking when he received the petition on behalf of the DC, Director of Public Works for Chikwawa District Council, Isaac Mdindo assured the petitioners that their concerns will be forwarded to relevant authorities.—Additional reporting by Lawrence Chilomo, MANA