UNDP helps Ebola Emergency Response Workers get paid

May 27, 2015

On a recent afternoon in the lush mountain town of Macenta, Guinea, an emergency response nurse named Akoi Guilavogui stood in front of the Red Cross compound, recalling the months he spent fighting the outbreak of the Ebola virus.

“The work in the treatment center was difficult,” he said. “We were amongst people who were dying, and family members were being brought in. We were in our protective suits, and with the heat it was relentless day and night. We had to be courageous, otherwise we would have given up.”

Guilavogui is just one of more than 100,000 Emergency Response Workers, mostly nationals of the epicenter countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, hired to combat the Ebola outbreak. But by October 2014, it was clear that governments were struggling to address the epidemic and many workers had gone without pay for months. This, along with miscommunications and differences in pay scales, triggered the threat of strikes. Therefore, UNDP was tasked by the UN Secretary General and the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) to help coordinate payments to the workers, including extra hazard pay.

“As the outbreak became an international health emergency, UNDP understood that to reach zero Ebola cases and beat the disease, one of the most important issues was to pay the frontline Ebola workers,” said Magdy Martínez-Solimán, UNDP’s Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support. “UNDP was happy to support local governments in coordinating these payments and help compensate these frontline workers who risked their lives every day throughout the crisis.”

Doctors, nurses and hygienists crossing into the ‘Red Zone’ for work each day were given an additional 75 percent bonus on top of their usual monthly wage. To deliver the funds, UNDP invested seed resources in systems to manage information in all three countries to track payments, and sent a surge of staff and technical advisors. The agency also worked to strengthen existing payment mechanisms such as mobile banking, online transfers or cash, and helped provide protection for in-person cash transactions. With the World Bank and other partners covering recurrent costs, UNDP observed that the critical bottleneck lay in the delivery of payments to the ‘last mile.’ When no other option existed, UNDP staff delivered the payments themselves. By December 2014 more than 90 percent of the workers had been paid.

“This incentive payment rewards all of us for the risk that we have taken,” Guilavogui said of the hazard pay. “It was significant for us while the epidemic was taking place. If we were not courageous, we would not have been able to carry on. This is a recognition of what we did.”

The payments, organized into three country projects and one regional project, were submitted to the Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) for a total of $7,082,770. Additional funds were to come from UNMEER and the international community.

Instead of taking over government payrolls, UNDP worked to make sure that any assistance given could benefit the effected countries over the long-term. By developing payment systems, UNDP can create opportunities for expanding access to affordable financial services, boost economic growth, and improve the livelihoods of low-income people, especially women, long after the epidemic is over.

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