Health News

Sierra Leone doctors treating COVID-19 patients to go on strike

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Doctors treating coronavirus patients in Sierra Leone will go on strike within 24 hours after the government failed to pay promised allowances, their union said on Wednesday.

The Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) said in a statement the strike would continue until the allowances are paid in full, without specifying how much the doctors are owed.

“That could be in five hours or five months. But we won’t settle for anything less than the full backlog of weekly payments for the last three months,” Samba Jalloh, SLMDA’s secretary general, told Reuters.

Doctors treating patients for conditions other than COVID-19 will continue to show up to work, it said.

Government officials could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the Sierra Leone’s coronavirus response team had previously told Reuters that the government was carrying out an audit of health workers to verify those that are directly involved in the COVID-19 response.

The union also complained that a memorandum of understanding between the government and doctors working in COVID-19 isolation and treatment centres expired on Tuesday and has not been renewed.

“They’ve continuously said that these payments would come once they verified our ranks, but no progress was ever made. But we never breached our part of the contract, despite few PPEs (personal protective equipment), medicine shortages and other issues,” Jalloh said.

Sierra Leone has recorded 1,462 cases of the virus, including 60 deaths, far fewer than many other West African countries despite its fragile health infrastructure.

The association said two doctors have died of COVID-19 related causes since the outbreak, while more than 100 health workers have also been infected.

Health workers in Sierra Leone went on strike several times during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, which killed nearly 4,000 people in the country including around 250 medical workers.

Writing by Aaron Ross and Bate Felix,; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Lisa Shumaker