Botswana is this week facing the grim prospect of failing to control a possible COVID-19 outbreak as nurses who are expected to be in the frontlines of the coronavirus battle threaten to down tools unless they are given a special risk allowance.
Botswana’s Covid-19 preparedness plan is currently hanging in the balance and the country’s public health system faces paralysis as the Minister of Health Lemogang Kwape and the Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) are currently deadlocked over the payment of the coronavirus risk allowance.
The Union is accusing Minister Kwape of backtracking on his promise ofa special risk allowance for medical staff on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight.
BONU President Obonolo Rahube confirmed to the Sunday Standard that as part of Botswana’s coronavirus preparedness plan, the union met the minister of health earlier this year to discuss COVID -19 and other health related issues that affect nurses generally. He said the minister promised among other things a special risk allowance for nurses in the frontlines of the coronavirus fight.
As the lethal virus sweeps the globe,BONU was this week considering industrial action to force the minister to honour his side of the bargain.
Indications, however are that the minister has balked out of his agreement with BONU. The union of Friday sought audience with the minister, but their overture was allegedly spurned.
Minister Kwape was not available for comment.
In an interview with the Sunday Standard, BONU president confirmed that the union is considering an industrial action to force government to pay nurses a special coronavirus risk allowance.
“It is true that nurses are demanding a coronavirus risk allowance to fight the pandemic failing which nurses will down tools. All the nurses are asking for is a paltry P3 000 allowances which is reasonable” he said.
Rahube explained that Botswana was unprepared to fight the deadly virus and nurses who are in the frontlines face a high risk of contracting the disease and spreading it to their families.
He said the union was demanding that nurses who have been deployed to fight the virus at the borders or health facilities should also be provided with protective clothing, accommodation and separated from their families in order to avoid spreading the virus.
He said once the nurses’ demands have been met, they will do all in their power to fight the virus and that alone can save the nation from infection.
“It should be noted that the nurses are not being unreasonable. It is unfortunate that the minister is playing to the gallery and making makes all the right noises but is not willing to walk his talk. In time the truth will out and the public will be able to judge for itself”, he said.
The union has been joined by Botswana Retired Nurses Society who urged government to support health practitioners by ensuring their conditions of service are up to international standard.
Botswana Retired Nurses Chairperson, Gabatwesepe Dikgang indicated they have scheduled a telephone conference call over the weekend to discuss how they can assist in fighting the COVID -19.
“At the moment I am not at liberty to discuss what the society will do until a stand has been taken. Once an agreement has been reached, the society will then approach government regarding the role that it wants to play,” said Dikgang.
“It is unfortunate that this disease seems to affect mostly the elderly therefore we don’t think the society will allow its members to be on deployed in the frontlines”, she stated.
Dikgang urged government to support the health practitioners adding what the nurses’ request was reasonable.