“It has been such a great relief,” said Rebecca Kumah, 35, who treats covid-19 patients on the night shift in the capital, Accra. “Our sacrifice is recognized.”
Hazard pay has become a rallying cry and a source of controversy around the world as health-care workers risk their lives on the front lines — often without adequate supplies or protection. Ghana is offering some of the globe’s most generous additional benefits while a number of nations move to expand their support for those laboring in highly infectious environments.
Canada announced salary hikes. France pledged bonuses for doctors and nurses as part of its $120 billion rescue package. Russia made a similar promise — though some emergency responders have not seen the cash. An Iraqi governor said public health employees would be rewarded with free land. The United Kingdom is paying families of medical workers who die of covid-19, the disease the virus causes, a lump sum of 60,000 euros, or about $65,000.
American officials have repeatedly referred to the country’s doctors and nurses as “heroes,” and President Trump has described them as “running into death just like soldiers running into bullets.” But the United States has approved no national hazard pay, and some health-care workers face reduced hours and pay as hospitals suffer losses.
Outrage erupted at treatment centers elsewhere as infections mounted. Nurses in Brazil and Lebanon have gone on strike, blasting a lack of safety gear in perilous conditions.
In Ghana, which had recorded 6,683 cases and 32 deaths as of Sunday, officials made a bet that happier employees would be more effective virus fighters.
“When people are motivated, they do their work from their hearts,” said Patrick Aboagye, who leads the Ghana Health Service, the country’s public health system.
The coronavirus is deadly, he said, and the people who treat patients endure constant exposure. They are more likely to get sick, sometimes dramatically so: Health-care employees make up 16 percent of the coronavirus cases in the United States, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ghana’s government funded the raises.
“They must feel supported,” Aboagye said.
The hazard benefits started in April and will continue through June, with an option to extend them if infections keep climbing, officials say. Front-line workers also receive free transportation and life insurance policies, as well as medical-bill coverage if they catch the virus.
The bigger safety net soothes anxiety, said Emmanuel Amankra, a 31-year-old physician at Lekma Hospital in Accra.
Before the coronavirus, he mostly tended to patients with diabetes, asthma and HIV.
“Now everyone is on red alert for covid-19,” Amankra said. He is staying in an apartment away from his family.
The extra income helps offset that expense. He is pouring the rest into savings for public health graduate school in New York.
“Everyone is just like, ‘This has never been done before,’ ” the doctor said. “It helps to know what you are doing is being seen.”
And it fuels wisecracks at work.
“I’ll say: ‘Oh, I’m tired. I’m going to take a break.’ And then someone says, ‘Well, you’re getting a tax cut,’ and we keep working,” Amankra said, laughing.
Kumah, the overnight nurse, didn’t choose her profession for the money or glory.
The average monthly pay for workers like her in Ghana is about $400, and people are not always bursting with appreciation when she injects booster shots.
Then her hospital transformed into the nation’s biggest coronavirus treatment center. The staffers trained as if they were back in school.
Psychologists led panic-management sessions before the first patient arrived in late March. Today, the team of 60 nurses is caring for more than 100.
“Every day, we live in fear,” said Kumah, a generalist with 15 years of experience. “Our figures keep rising. It hasn’t been easy at all.”
One thing she is not worried about is money. The tax cuts alone cover a month’s worth of groceries.
The nurse plans to devote much of her windfall to her 60-year-old mother, who has diabetes. The retired teacher needs a new blood glucose meter.
In the absence of regular visits and hugs, Kumah said, at least she can feel close to her that way.