Ebola: Heroes Who Saved Nigeria In 2014 Decry Unpaid Salaries

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The core team of staff from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) who led the effort to tackle the Ebola pandemic lament non-payment of salaries three years after.

It was in October 2014 that Nigeria received universal praise for its swift and efficient in eradicating Ebola outbreak which had struck West African neighbours Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

BBC Africa’s journalists, novelist and writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani who interviewed the medics involve, discovered their plight and here’s what Dr. Kenneth Madiebo, the 53-year-old medic who dealt with the body of Patrick Sawyer, the first identified Ebola case Nigeria in 2014, said,

“If they play back the clock, they won’t get me to do that job again.”

Dr. Madiebo is a project officer with the NCDC since September 2012, and was assigned the task of decontaminating the hospital room where Mr. Sawyer had died in July 2014, and to prepare his body for cremation.

He explained using a video of when he and his team had to dorn some protective gear to remove Mr. Sawyer’s naked body from the narrow toilet where he had died – Mr. Sawyer had been certified dead at 7:30 but the removal of his body took place at 23:30 that night.

“Everybody was afraid,” Dr. Madiebo said. “Nobody else wanted to do it. But I did it because it was my job.

“I was ill for days afterward but it was more psychological, not Ebola.”

He was even publicly praised when Nigeria was officially declared Ebola-free on October 20, by the then Health Minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu who asked Dr. Madiebo to stand up during a press conference and commended him openly for his key role in containing the virus.

That same month, the minister resigned his position to pursue other interests, while Dr. Madiebo was promoted from project officer to incident manager, a position that came with a salary increase.

However, he disclosed that he never received the new salary, or any other salary since then. Meanwhile, his colleague, Colette Isu-Ezumah, a 43-year-old public health worker who moved back to Nigeria from the US in 2011, shares the same frustrations.

Isu-Ezumah was reportedly a driving force behind the 250-strong group of Nigerian volunteers sent to Sierra Leone and Liberia for six months to help in the fight against Ebola when infection rates were at their peak in 2014 and 2015.

Despite this, and just like Dr. Madiebo, Mrs. Isu-Ezumah has not been paid since October 2014. According to her, “our boss kept telling us not to worry, that we would eventually get paid.”

Also, Dr. Madiebo said he decided to take matters into his own hands by sending an e-mail to Permanent Secretary, Linus Awute who was in charge at the time when President Muhammadu Buhari had just been elected – a letter which yielded no results.

In the interviewer’s opinion, Nigeria has lost the expertise and experience of the team which fought Ebola, and may have to start from scratch if faced with another deadly epidemic.

Dr. Madiebo said he kept writing to Mr. Awute and other top health ministry officials, which he believes earned him a reputation as a troublemaker.

“When the NCDC moved to a new building in 2015, I was snubbed. I eventually stopped going to work because they refused to give me an office so that they could justify not paying me.”

Mrs. Isu-Ezumah said she regretted her decision to remain in Nigeria after the effort to curb Ebola ended.

“I could not pay my rent, my children’s school fees, or my transportation to work,” she says.

“When my son was admitted to hospital in March 2016 and I couldn’t pay his medical bill, I thought to myself: ‘If I were in the US, I would at least have insurance coverage'”.

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She reportedly left Nigeria in July 2016, and now works for the US Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Another doctor from the NCDC, Dr. Ukpaka also returned to the UK, where he works as a trainer and a lead GP. But he says his heart is still in Nigeria and he is eager to return, despite feeling betrayed by his NCDC experience.

He believes there are so many challenges in the health sector in Nigeria that require his services.

Dr. Madiebo on the other hand, still considers himself an NCDC employee because he has not yet received a dismissal letter, plus he also plans to launch his own data and research company.

“They used me,’ he says. “It would have been better for me to stay in my small cocoon, earn a small salary and not be involved in this.”