Health workers at Kameza Isolation Centre in Blantyre yesterday threatened to release coronavirus (Covid-19) patients from the centre today if they do not get their allowance arrears from the district health office (DHO).
Blantyre DHO director of health and social services Dr. Gift Kawalazira has since acknowledged that the DHO owes the 88 health workers some allowances, saying the office is looking at ways to manage the situation.
However, he could not say how much they owe the health workers.
But in an interview yesterday at the centre, one of the leaders of the workers who asked for anonymity, said the workers in Grades I and above are entitled to K40 000 per day, those in Grade K are supposed to receive K30 000 while those in lower grades receive K20 000 and below, per day.
Said the worker: “However, despite signing for the allowances everyday when we report for duties, we have not been receiving anything. We have been told on various occasions that we will get all amounts in full, but to no avail.”
The source, who is a medical doctor at the facility, added that the arrears date back to January when some of the staff were stationed at Chileka Internaational Airport to screen travellers for Covid-19.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared coronavirus as an outbreak in December 2019 after it was discovered in Wuhan, China. However, Malawi only declared the disease a national disaster on March 20 2020.
Another health worker at the isolation centre said it is sad that while they are risking their lives working in such a challenging environment, government has not honoured their payments.
She claimed that even after they go into isolation, whether at home or at College of Medicine (CoM) in Blantyre where some go following their routine work at the centre, they are still not paid as agreed.
But Kawalazira yesterday said the DHO received K45 million, out of which 48 percent was used to pay allowance arrears for workers who were stationed at Chileka International Airport in December last year.
He said: “Fifty two percent of the money went into procurement of supportive items, including fuel for field vehicles.”
But he assured that the facility will not be sealed, saying the DHOs office is looking at how best to handle the situation.
He said: “Working at the isolation centre is on voluntary basis, and the workers are picked from several duty stations and that if they down tools, the DHO will pick workers from elsewhere.”
When contacted, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 co-chairperson Dr. John Phuka declined to comment, saying the issue was administrative in nature. Both Ministry of Health chief of health services Dr. Charles Mwansambo and spokesperson Joshua Malango referred the matter back to Kawalazira.
The workers refused to attend to the Covid-19 patients yesterday and people who went to have their samples taken after spending 14 days in self-isolation were also sent back. Only those that arrived earlier for the testing had their samples taken.
Two weeks ago, the Presidential Task force on Covid-19 said the National Coronavirus Preparedness Response Plan budget has been revised upwards by K97 billion from K157 billion, representing a 61.7 percent increase.