Local nurses are accusing govt of using selective approach as only foreign medics are paid Covid-19 incentives
The cat is out of the bag!
The true motive of the recent strike where nurses downed their tools was not just due to insufficient PPEs against Covid-19, but that foreign nurses were being given top priority and paid the Risk Allowance and other incentives while the locals are not getting even a penny.
According to the National Association of Nurses President, Bheki Mamba they have it in good authority that the foreigners are not just volunteers but they are striking it rich through receiving lucrative incentives including the Risk Allowance. This is in addition to far well-paying contracts drawn between them and government, laying out their alleged hefty monthly remuneration packages.
China-on-Taiwan and Cuba Governments are among those who sent medical experts to the country last year to assist in the fight against Covid-19. The most recent country to send experts is the United Kingdom which sent in a team of medics from its Emergency Medical Team (EMT), which was deployed to the country to provide support and specialist expertise in hospitals which are effortlessly trying to salvage patients who are battling with the coronavirus. The team consisted of eleven (11), including four (4) British medics. They came to provide urgent training and to use their specialist expertise to provide clinical supervision to those treating patients critically ill with COVID-19.
This was confided to Independent News by the Nurses Association’s Bheki Mamba in an interview. Mamba said contrary to what was reported in the local media about the nurses’ strike to the effect that nurses were without the appropriate working gear, known as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the nurses also voiced their grave grievance that they felt they were ignored when it comes to the payment of incentives.
Mamba stated that in relation to other African countries that are most hit by the pandemic, Eswatini medical officers are not taken care of. He said African countries, including the Republic of South Africa are paid the Risk Allowance while some are exempted from the PAY-AS-YOU-EARN FORM form of tax.
“The PAY-AS-YOU-EARN form of tax may be deemed petty but it depletes the little we are getting as nurses, and that little money could be used to cater for other necessities in our households,” said Mamba. The president added that they are also advocating for additional payment of half of their basic salary to what they are remunerated every month in addition to other incentives all as a token of appreciation for the services rendered during these risky times of contracting the deadly coronavirus. He said it was true that more and more souls are being lost due to the outbreak of the pandemic but matters could be worse without the effort of the nurses.
Some African countries including the Republic of South Africa have offered their nurses with an additional half payment of their basic salary for up to 6-12 months and the exemption of PAY-AS-YOU-EARN (PAYE) for up to twelve (12) months. “Surely the Eswatini government can afford to do same considering that some of these African countries are far below in terms of their economic standing compared to Eswatini,” stated Mamba.
“Unless we see an improvement in incentivizing of the nurses who are doubtlessly in the foremost front in not only the fight against the incumbent Covid-19 pandemic but also play a leading role in the country’s health care system in general. We will down our tools in an effort to force government to give in to our grievances,” said the nurses’ association president.
He went on to say that they are often times the prime target of the public which criticizes them (medical officers) for inefficient medical services but without them (public) knowing that the origin and source of the problems in the medical professional is government which refuses to appreciate the efforts rendered by local medical officers.
Mamba mentioned that it might help to know that they (nurses) are first and foremost human beings like everybody else and have genuine needs. The president poured scorn on the operations of government, saying that she has the tendency of overlooking important issues and attending to petty issues such as diverting funds to projects that are of less interest to the needs of the public despite the prevailing devastating national disasters.
“Nurses have never been burdened to this extent before and this came with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and they are now compelled to work tooth and nail for the sake of saving lives of emaSwati but their sufferings are not seriously considered and addressed. This happens despite the fact that government knows it very well that they are the most exposed to contracting the deadly virus,” lamented Mamba. He added that the nursing profession has been deeply tested in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak and yet government obviously has turned a blind eye. He said Eswatini is hanging on the brink of peril and their savior would be no one else except nurses, but disappointingly they are not valued. “We are at risk and so are our families and had it not been that we were called in this profession, we would have long thrown in the towel and found other means of survival,” stated the nurses’ president.
Director of Health Vusi Magagula referred all questions concerning the welfare of the nurses to the minister of health Lizzie Nkosi, who sought a text message which she did not respond to. When she was called later on she said she would call back but did not at the time of compilation. Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health Simon Zwane was also not available when called on his mobile phone.
Some nurses who commented on condition of anonymity spoke in one voice and said they were at a breaking point and had lost the drive to provide medical services due to their welfare being ignored. They said what was most heartbreaking was the fact that they were left out when it comes to the Risk Allowance and other incentives while foreign practitioners were being lavished with benefits. They said it is worrying that they do the same work as the foreigners but when it comes to being compensated they were being snubbed.
“We are no longer energized as when the first case was reported and this is all due to the selective approach of government when it comes to incentives, which sends the message that our services are not needed,” said an anonymous nurse stationed at the Mbabane Government Hospital.
Similarly, the South African government was reported to have spent millions of Rands paying Cuban medics who were sought to provide their expertise in the fight against Covid-19. The South African media reported that projected costs for a medical brigade of 187 Cuban personnel was E440 million. An even bigger contingent arrived in South Africa in June, consisting of 217 personnel. It was further reported that the average cost of the Cuban medical brigade was projected at E2.35 million a person.
In December last year health care workers at the Mbabane Government Hospital downed their tools citing the ignoring of their demands.
Nurses, including orderlies held back their services and protested on alleged claims of shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Resulting from the protest some patients including pregnant women were turned back without being attended to. The nurses cited the risk of contracting the deadly coronavirus due to the lack of PPEs. They claimed that they were made to wear the same surgical masks for prolonged periods of time thus endangering their health. Some staff members had tested positive to the virus which was attributed to inadequate protective equipment, an issue which was said have been ignored by management.
While nurses are crying foul over being sidelined in the payment of incentives, Eswatini has recorded over 15 878 cases on Wednesday, with 583 deaths and 10 839 recoveries. On a positive note, Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi on Tuesday announced that about 108 000 indicative doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are expected in the Kingdom in three weeks.
The Minister said the Kingdom of Eswatini is a participant of the COVAX Facility through which the country is expecting to receive 20 percent of the population’s vaccine doses.
Nkosi said it should be noted that the country might have two (2) or more candidate vaccines used in country as and when additional vaccine candidates receive regulatory approval for emergency use listing. For this first batch the vaccine doses expected are AstraZeneca vaccines. In an interview with Independent News, the Minister explained that the country will use the AstraZeneca vaccine because its profile fits with other vaccines we provide to children thus providing us with the required cold-chain infrastructure in-country along with trained personnel for its delivery nationwide.
The vaccination process will follow a phased approach since not all the vaccines will become available in country at the same time.
The approach will come in three (3) phases; Phase 1 will be Health care providers in the public and private sector Doses remaining from phase 1 will be moved to the phase 2 group which comprises of the elderly population 60 years and above People living with comorbidities which make them more vulnerable to fatality.
Phase 3 will be Essential workers outside the health sector (for example Security forces, fire department, teachers, immigration officers, customs, etc.) Communities that cannot practise social distancing and Travellers.
The Minister said Eswatini expects to obtain about 15% (237,328 doses) of the population’s doses from the 270 million doses that were secured by the African Union.
Minister Nkosi said the expected breakdown of the vaccine doses from this platform (African Union) will be as follows; Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine (43,950 doses); AstraZeneca/Oxford University Vaccine (87,899 doses) and Johnson & Johnson Vaccine (105,479 doses). The vaccine doses from the Africa Medical Supplies Platform of the African Union are expected to start arriving in the second quarter of 2021 in a phased approach.