Sierra Leone ends Ebola bonuses for health workers

A health worker wearing protective equipment assists an Ebola patient at the Kenama treatment centre run on November 15, 2014 (AFP Photo/Francisco Leong)

Freetown (AFP) - Sierra Leone said on Thursday it was ending the "risk allowances" it has been paying to thousands of healthcare workers on the front line of its battle with Ebola.

Steven Gaojia, the co-ordinator of the government's response to the outbreak, told reporters the payments of up to 500,000 leones ($118, 102 euros) a week on top of regular salaries would finish by the end of March.

The move comes with Sierra Leone, one of three west African countries at the epicentre of the epidemic, seeing a decrease in new cases across most of its territory.

Officials registered 117 last week against 184 the week before, according to the World Health Organization's latest situation update.

"We have developed an exit strategy in the fight against Ebola. If there are still cases beyond that, we will re-contract people. Now the hazard payment has become a dependency issue, making too many depend on it," said Ngauja.

Sierra Leone estimates that 26,000 healthcare workers -- either state employees or volunteers -- are involved in its fight against Ebola, while 221 have died after catching the deadly virus.

"The incidence of health worker infections has fallen in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but rose in Guinea throughout December," the WHO said on Wednesday.

The risk payments have represented a lucrative sideline for the workers in Sierra Leone, one of the world's poorest countries where the vast majority earn less than a dollar a day, according to the World Bank.

But the withdrawal of the incentive has not generally been greeted negatively since it was always viewed as a temporary measure and many healthworkers see it as a symbol that the worst of the epidemic is over.

David Koroma, who works with an Ebola burial team in the capital Freetown, said however he expected to be out-of-pocket when the crisis ended.

"It will be a disappointment for me when the job folds up. It will mean going back to search for any job, as I have been unemployed for four years now after leaving school," he told AFP.

A nurse at a Freetown treatment centre said she and her colleagues were not surprised by the allowance being stopped.

"I shall miss that as it has covered some day-to-day expenses," she told AFP.

"However, the news that new cases are scaling down makes me happy and when the disease is eventually eradicated, it will bring all of us back to normal life."