Mobile money for 16,000 Ebola workers
  • December 26, 2014

Marion Sesay gossiped with her two work colleagues while they waited in the shade of a local money handler for their names to be called.

She and her friends, nurses at a nearby hospital, are entitled to hazard pay, an extra bit of money every two weeks to offset the risk of working in health care during Ebola times.

"The money is helping us greatly," Ms. Sesay said. "We can use the money for our kids, for our families. The money is good, but we just want this thing to end."

For the third installment of their hazard pay entitlement, Sesay and her national colleagues, some 16,000 recipients across Sierra Leone, received text messages on their phones: how much money to expect and where to pick it up with a security code.

The system, a mobile money transfer scheme, was implemented for the first time the week before Christmas with a great deal of satisfaction.

"This one (cycle) is better than the last one," Sesay said.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), working with experts from the UN Capital Development Fund, has partnered with the World Bank and the African Development Bank to streamline the payment process under the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC), the body overseeing the cash payments.

UNDP brings its vast experience with cash transfer and payments from around the world to rapidly scale-up and improve this Sierra Leone system to ensure everyone is happy.

"Paying Ebola workers is paramount," said UNDP's Country Director, Sudipto Mukerjee. "We need to ensure that the right people are getting paid the right amount at the right time."

As such, UNDP is working to close the gaps on the flexible and fluid system that requires serious attention and expert input.

The mobile money transfer was a system set up to meet the needs specific to Sierra Leone where many people send and receive money via their cell phones and mobile network providers like Airtel or Africell. With thousands of kiosks in every village around the country, Ebola workers with SMS in hand, walked into any of the approved locations, and cashed out their hazard pay.

"It's a good system that seems to work well," said UNDP's Tenzin Keyzom Ngodup, cash transfer specialist. "It's very important to maintain accountability, transparency and timeliness of the payments."

Eighty percent of the workers have mobile phones and almost 90 percent have bank accounts. While the mobile money system addresses the immediate needs of hazard payments to Ebola's frontline workers, it is also an opportunity to address the longer term needs of some of the nation's poorest and most vulnerable who will now gain access into the financial system.

"The vision of this work that UNDP is undertaking is not limited to this crisis." Ms Ngodup said. Of course we are reacting and responding to the crisis at hand, but we're also working on ensuring that a platform like this can be used in a future crisis or for financial inclusion in general."

UNDP will continue its technical support to the NERC as part of the Cash Payment Team and will continue to improve the system to ensure all Ebola workers receive the hazard payment on time in a transparent manner.