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Economy

Kenyans paid Sh450,000 to fight West Africa Ebola

Some of the 170 volunteer health workers headed to Liberia and Sierra Leone to help fight Ebola, during a pre-deployment briefing and training in Nairobi. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE |
Some of the 170 volunteer health workers headed to Liberia and Sierra Leone to help fight Ebola, during a pre-deployment briefing and training in Nairobi. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE |   NATION MEDIA GROUP

About 170 Kenyan health workers will be offered a monthly salary of up to $5,000 (Sh450,000) in Sierra Leone and Liberia where they have volunteered to help contain the deadly Ebola virus.

The health workers will leave for West Africa Friday afternoon in two chartered Kenya Airways flights – which stopped flying to the two Ebola-hit countries in September – and will be there for between three to six months under an African Union (AU) mission.

Health secretary James Macharia Thursday said the volunteers – including nurses, doctors and laboratory technicians – would be paid a monthly stipend of between $3,000 (Sh270,000) and $5,000 (Sh450,000), depending on their roles and experience.

“Aside from the allowances, their salaries back home for the duration they will be there will not be touched,” said Mr Macharia. “While in West Africa, their accommodation and transport costs will be catered for.”

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At Sh450,000, the medics’ monthly stipends will be at par with the average annual pay the private sector paid in 2013 at Sh467,689.

It also outpaces the average monthly salary for workers in the financial sector, the top paying industry in Kenya, which stood at Sh115,481 in 2013.

About 700 health workers sought to be volunteers but only 170 were shortlisted to form part of the AU Ebola intervention team in West Africa.

Most of them have been drawn from public and private hospitals, with some being freelancers.

The volunteer health workers have been trained on detecting and management of deadly diseases by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other partners.

Kenya is one of 19 countries the World Bank says is at risk of Ebola although no Ebola cases have been confirmed in the country.

Though the outbreak has seemingly peaked, analysts reckon the epidemic in West Africa is likely to continue through 2015.

Mr Macharia says the volunteers form a key plank of the region’s strategy to fight the deadly virus at its source.

“That’s exactly what this group is doing. By going to West Africa, we shall be sending troops to attack the enemy at source,” said Mr Macharia.

The epidemic has claimed 8,235 lives out of the 20,747 known cases worldwide over the past year, WHO said on Wednesday.

Overall, 838 health workers have been infected and 495 have died, with some of the medics taking the virus to Western capitals.

The Kenyan volunteers have been offered a comprehensive medical cover against health, disability, medical evacuation and death should they get infected. They will be monitored for three weeks after the assignment.

The AU intervention has been funded to a tune of $10 million (Sh900 million) by USAid.

Kenya is the fourth African country to send volunteers to West Africa after Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda and Uganda are expected to follow suit.

“We can only win this war against Ebola if we embrace a regional approach rather than each country just focusing on itself,” Mr Macharia said.

He noted that Kenya has close to 24 porous border points that can serve as entry points for the disease. “That’s why we have to work together.”

The ministry had plans to buy five mobile units as well as build six fixed isolation centres in Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, Nakuru and Kisumu. This, together with hand sprayers and disinfectants, was to cost Sh338 million.

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