Health workers deployed at Covid-19 frontline deprived of their allowancesThe health workers were supposed to be paid an amount equivalent to their salary for working under challenging conditions.
Health workers deployed on the frontline in the battle against Covid-19 haven’t received their allowances, even four months after the government announced that extra pay for them.
Health workers, who have been working on the frontline facing a host of of challenges, including discrimination and stigma, were supposed to receive allowances equivalent to their salaries, as per an announcement by the Ministry of Health and Population. The government’s failure to pay health workers, some of whom have even contracted the disease, their allowances adds more stress, they say.
“We haven’t received the allowances the government promised us,” Shankhar Pandey, out-patient department in-charge at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, the designated hospital for the treatment of Covid-19, told the Post.
The allowance money is crucial for many health workers who have been forced to put up in hotels and guest houses after their neighbours and landlords pressed them to do so fearing that they will spread the infection.
“A lot of health workers are in trouble as they are forced to live in hotels,” said Pandey, who himself was once stopped by the members of his own community and questioned about his work.
Health workers such as Pandey say that even restaurants and eateries refuse to provide food to the health to those working at hospitals and laboratories. "You know, how much money is needed to stay in a hotel for months," said Pandey.
According to him, 20 medical officers serving at Sukraraj have been living in a hotel for the last several months. Nurses too are doing the same due to the fear that they might transmit the infection to family members. They are footing the bills themselves.
"We are running all the risks. We risk getting ourselves infected, and passing it on to our family members," a doctor at the hospital said on the condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorised to talk to the media.
Dr Subash Acharya, chief of critical care department at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, said that health workers deployed on the Covid-19 frontline are frustrated due to the apathy of concerned agencies towards addressing their problems.
The Ministry of Health has already spent billions of rupees procuring test kits, personal protective equipment, ventilators, beds, equipment for intensive care units and isolation wards for the treatment of infected people. While a lot of money is also being spent on awareness programmes, the government hasn’t paid health workers their allowances.
Officials however, point the finger at the Ministry of Finance for not releasing the allowances Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry concedes, that the ministry has not disbursed allowances to any of health workers since the beginning of the epidemic.
"We have written to the Ministry of Finance to allocate the amount needed to provide allowances to health workers deployed on the front line," said Pokhrel. "We have over Rs three billion in pending payments under various headings, including allowances for health workers," he said.
Meanwhile, the situation is even worse for doctors, nurses and other staffers at private health facilities. While some have been forced to quit their jobs due to pressure from their house owners, others are taking cuts on their pay. Some private hospitals provide lodging and food to their staffers who can’t go to their apartments due to objections from house owners, neighbours and members of the community.
"Private hospitals have cut salaries of health workers by half," said Acharya. "How can a staff nurse whose salary is Rs 12, 000 take double the risk for half the salary?" he asked.
He said that the Ministry of Health should direct all private hospitals not to deduct salaries of health workers deployed on the frontline.