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Not All Ebola Health Workers Answer Call to Strike for Better Pay in Liberia


"Freaked everyone out."

Dealing with a dangerous infectious disease like Ebola is hazard enough for some in Liberia to call for a strike Monday as they demand better pay. But it's not the only factor.

"Conditions for local workers are horrific," David Darg with the nonprofit Operation Blessing, which is helping address some needs in the country hardest hit by the viral outbreak, told TheBlaze. "You have 100-degree heat and [they're wearing rubber suits.] Doctors are telling me that their boots are filled with sweat when they come out."

Darg said Friday afternoon in a phone interview that talk of an impending health worker strike "freaked everyone out in the country."

"Everyone is treading on egg shells here," he said.

People walk on October 11, 2014 outside the recently opened Ebola Island Clinic in Monrovia. Some health workers started a strike to obtain a hazard pay increase, which had been announced by the government. T (ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite the strike that was scheduled to begin at midnight local time on Monday, some nurses still showed up for work.

The strike could severely hamper Liberia's ability to respond to the historic Ebola outbreak. The disease is believed to have killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa. In Liberia alone, it has taken at least 2,316 lives and has infected more than 4,000, according to the latest estimates from the World Health Organization.

Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, like blood and vomit, which puts health workers at particular risk. In Liberia, which has many treatment centers overflowing with patients, there is often insufficient protective gear, leading to a concerning number of health workers becoming infected. The latest World Health Organization toll said about 400 health workers have contracted the disease, nearly half of those in Liberia.

Even some who have been wearing protective gear have become infected with the virus. The latest example is a nurse in Texas who tested positive for the virus after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. after he traveled to the country from Liberia before exhibiting symptoms. Duncan died last week at a Dallas hospital.

In view of the dangerousness of their work, members of the National Health Workers Association are demanding higher monthly hazard pay. The association boasts more than 10,000 members, though the health ministry says only about 1,000 of those are employed at sites receiving Ebola patients.

According to Reuters, the association's leaders met with the government about their demands for more pay, which were ultimately denied.

"The government of Liberia has not changed their posture. They do not want to engage us so that we can talk," George Williams, the association's secretary general, told Reuters. "Time is running out, by 1200 midnight on Monday morning, we will be starting the go-slow action."

"The problem is the government. The public should get angry with the government, not with us," he added.

But at least some nurses were turning up for work Monday, according to Gobee Logan, a doctor at a government hospital in Tubmanburg, 40 miles from Liberia's capital of Monrovia.

The call to strike was for nurses, physician's assistants, lab technicians and other health workers, but not doctors. Any such strike would make caring for patients even harder since health workers who are not doctors make up the bulk of staff at clinics and hospitals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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