Mobile pay for thousands of Ebola workers

May 12, 2015

Freetown, Sierra Leone - Isatu Bangura (25) joined the fight against Ebola in August 2014. As a ‘screener,’ she took people’s temperature and checked for symptoms of Ebola as they moved in and out of the capital, Freetown.

On top of the risk, fear and stigma often associated with anti-Ebola work, even getting paid was tough in the early stage of the outbreak. Hundreds had to travel long distances, often waiting overnight in far-off cities to collect their cash the next day.

 “We had to fight to queue for a long time in the scorching sun and rain, just to get our hard-earned money,” Bangura says.

Yet with help from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), by December 2014, a new system ensured that payment was sent directly to the workers, mainly by mobile phone.

“Removing the need for cash makes payment quicker, safer and far easier to keep good records” says Ghulam Sherani, UNDP’s Payment Programme Manager in Sierra Leone.

“Many Ebola workers have literally risked their lives to help others, so we’re proud to be helping pay 23,000 people across the country” he says.

80% of all payments across the country are now made through mobile phone network operators, with the rest directly through banks.

In support of the Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Centre, the payment system builds on UNDP’s experience in Mali, Tajikistan and South Sudan, as well as “large-scale emergency programmes in the Central African Republic and Haiti” says Sherani.

Ms. Bangura says she likes the mobile pay system “because it saves time,” but hit a problem when she lost her phone recently. “I thought I lost my hazard pay for the month,” she says.

To help fix problems like Ms. Bangura’s on the workers home turf, UNDP quickly trained and deployed two-person teams to each of Sierra Leone’s 14 districts.

“What pleased me most is the way the staff sent to help spoke to me, it was lovely,” says Bangura.

 Isatu Bangura holds up her mobile phone with the text code for her hazard pay. Photo Alpha Daramy Sesay UNDP Sierra Leone

According to Stephen Gaojia, National Coordinator of Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Centre: “With other partners, UNDP has been a great help in improving how we track payments. Their support has helped stop the duplication of pay, so the right people get the right pay, every time.”

With the UNDP support, the Sierra Leonean team are aiming to do all payments directly by bank transfer, to remove risks related to mobile networks.  

UNDP has helped pay over 60,000 Ebola response workers in the three countries hardest-hit by Ebola - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The World Bank and the African Development Bank fund the Programme in Sierra Leone. UNDP, the UN Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER) and the UN Capital Development Fund (UNDCF) implement the programme and provide technical assistance.

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