A Boston Doctor Is Raising Money to Compensate Unpaid Ebola Workers

Nahid Bhadelia, a doctor at BMC, wants to raise $50,000 for healthcare workers in West Africa.

ebola

Ebola workers in Sierra Leone. Photo by Nahid Bhadelia, provided to bostonmagazine.com

When Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious disease doctor at Boston Medical Center, joined the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone last year, she kept hearing the same thing from local healthcare workers: The pay they had been promised had not come for months—if at all.

“These are folks that really invested so much of their own lives into it and faced stigma in their communities,” Bhadelia says. “They were finding themselves in a situation where they were putting their lives at risk every day, they were seeing their friends pass away, and they weren’t getting paid.”

Now that the healing has begun, Bhadelia wants to set things right. In mid-June, she launched a Go Fund Me page with the goal of raising $50,000, all of which would go toward retroactively paying healthcare workers. At the time this article was written, the project had raised $3,750, enough to compensate five workers and their families.

“You can’t change the world with just giving somebody a couple month’s salary,” Bhadelia says. “But we do this for needy families within our own country. When we see our neighbors suffering, when we see that they need our help, we extend that hand. That’s what this campaign is, only we’re extending the hand all the way across the ocean.”

Bhadelia is not the only person to draw attention to this issue. In May, Newsweek‘s Amy Maxmen wrote a feature detailing the administrative issues and corruption that led to lack of compensation for healthcare workers. In that article, she exposed the disturbing fact that less than 2 percent of the $3.3 billion donated to fight the Ebola epidemic was earmarked for those on the front lines.

It was also Maxmen who put Bhadelia back in touch with one of the nurses she worked with in Sierra Leone, a nurse who eventually gave Bhadelia a list of nurses, ambulance drivers, burial workers, lab technicians, and others who had been underpaid or not paid at all. “The issue is that now that the epidemic is done, they can’t find employment, many of them,” Bhadelia says. “They’ve done all this stuff, and in the end they’re kind of left high and dry.”

The epidemic may be over, but Bhadelia departed Monday for another trip to Sierra Leone, a trip with two goals: First, to help rebuild and improve ailing healthcare systems, and second, to record the stories of those who witnessed the devastation of ebola first-hand. The problem, Bhadelia says, is many Ebola workers are hesitant to align themselves with the epidemic, as the stigma is so great that many of them have already been forced to leave their villages and jobs. As such, any accounts she collects will be anonymous—but Bhadelia says they’re still important stories to document.

“History sometimes forgets the voices of these healthcare workers in the field, and I thought it was so important to capture their stories for the sake of posterity,” she says. “The voices that are so important to record, aside from the patients and the survivors, are the people who were in the trenches, the people who were there for months and months and whose lives were changed because of it.”