Health workers responding to an Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo have gone on strike over unpaid wages, hurting the impoverished country’s ability to identify and treat patients, the World Health Organization said on Monday.
The Ebola virus in western Congo has spread steadily into remote villages across Equateur province since the first case was identified on June 1, infecting 88 people and killing 36.
On Saturday, local laboratory technicians, case management teams and contact tracers blocked access to the Ebola testing laboratory in the city of Mbandaka, the provincial capital, said Mory Keita, the WHO’s Ebola incident manager.
They were protesting against the health ministry’s recent publication of their pay scales, which they thought were too low, and the government’s failure to pay them since the start of the new epidemic, Keita said.
“We have now some (Ebola) samples collected two days ago that are not tested,” he said. “It means we are not very effective in terms of efficiency to the response.”
Equateur’s health minister Bruno Efoloko said the regional governor had initiated discussions with the strikers and asked the central government for a raise in their wages.
“What is feared is that the strike may continue and this will have a devastating impact on the activities of the response,” Efoloko told us.
In June, Congo celebrated the end of a separate Ebola outbreak in the east of the country, the second-worst on record, which killed more than 2,200 people over two years.
The virus strain responsible for the more recent outbreak in Equateur is genetically distinct from the strain in the previous outbreak, and is believed to have originated in an animal source, according to the WHO.
Congo’s health system has been crippled by decades of mismanagement, underfunding and war. Some health workers responding to the coronavirus outbreak cut back their services in July to protest over unpaid bonuses.