By Appolos Christian
The Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA), has canvassed for efficient and effective healthcare service in West African countries, noting that COVID-19 tremendously made mockery of existing healthcare system.
OTUWA President, Comrade Mademba Sock, in a statement at a recent Virtual Presentation of the Union’s West African Survey of the Impact of COVID-19 on the Informal Economy, noted that healthcare systems were in very poor state and therefore performed poorly in response to COVID-19.
Comrade Sock, further stated; “As we already know, this virus outbreak had brought with it unprecedented hardship as various nations imposed harsh measures to curtail and control the health crisis it brought in its wake. All countries within our West African sub-region were affected to various degrees by the pandemic, and each of our 15 nation states suffered (and continue to suffer) economic and social dislocations and hardship.
“The first survey on the impact of the pandemic on the health sector established a number of findings, ranging from the absence of enough medical facilities, equipment and medical personnel in many of the countries of the sub-region at the onset of the outbreak. Hence the healthcare systems were in very poor state and therefore performed poorly in response to COVID-19. It also established that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) were in short supply for use by health workers in the heat of the pandemic throughout the sub-region.
“The survey made a number of recommendations which we had requested our affiliates in all the countries to use as basis for lobbying and advocacy amongst governments and other stakeholders in the sub-region to improve the healthcare situation.
“Together with our collaborating partner, the Solidarity Center office for West Africa, we decided to focus attention of the second survey we have carried out in Ghana, Gambia, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone, on the impact of COVID-19 on the Informal Economy, because as most of us already know, the overwhelming majority of the workforce in the ECOWAS Sub-region are in the informal economy sector. In some of the countries, up to 80% – 90% of the workforce are to be found in this sector.
“We have been witness to the stressful situation workers faced at the peak of the pandemic last year and the devastating effect of lockdowns and other measures governments in the sub-region took to control the health hazards of the virus.
“Informal economy workers faced numerous challenges as everyone was required to comply with the public health measures. As most informal economy operators depend on daily sales or provision of services to earn their livelihood, both during the day and night, the curfews imposed meant either a complete or partial halt to the economic activities of the informal economy workers.
“In the current survey we therefore sought to find out from the operators in the sector how they were affected by the COVID-19; and if they and their families had access to affordable healthcare in their areas and communities. We also asked them to state their opinion if they felt that government response to the COVID-19 was adequate in relation to public health. We similarly asked them if they received any support from government and its agencies during the lockdown, among other questions.
“Our objective of carrying out this survey is to seek the direct opinion of the operators in the informal economy on what they think can be done in future situation of public health emergency like COVID-19, and how the informal sector economy operators can have a voice in contributing ideas to government and other agencies/organization working to ameliorate the situation for the citizens, as well as workers in the informal economy, who have specific expectations based on their location in the service delivery and even production processes.
“We used questionnaires and Focus Group Discussion (FGD) methods for this survey and we received over 1,300 responses from the people we interviewed in the six countries, we earlier mentioned. In the course of this report back webinar, we shall receive report back on country by country basis, and the overall analysis of the data gathered from the six countries.
“As we did with the health sector survey, we will be placing the outcome of this survey before policy makers in government at the various countries, and asking them to do more to improve the healthcare situation in the countries of ECOWAS. This is to enable the citizens and especially workers in the informal economy receive some protection in form of social security and social insurance coverage, which are either grossly inadequate or non-existent in most countries presently. We hope to work with our two continental trade union bodies in this campaign.
“Let me conclude this remarks by expressing our profound appreciation to our partner – the Solidarity Center-West Africa Office, for the cooperation and support we have gotten from them, which has made possible the conduct of this survey. We similarly wish to thank the ILO, ITUC-Africa and OATUU for accepting our invitation to participate in this programme. We look forward to more collaboration between our organizations.