unisonlogoUNISON has joined a number of international unions in funding a new project aimed at containing the Ebola outbreak in west Africa – and to help prevent a similar human disaster in the future.

Up to the beginning of December, more than 6,000 people are thought to have died in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, as a result of the Ebola virus.

This includes hundreds of health care workers who contracted the virus while caring for patients, due to inadequate protective equipment and unsafe working conditions – a fact that reflects the fundamental reasons for the outbreak.

“It is undeniable that the Ebola outbreak took place in those West African countries with the lowest ratios of health workers to the general population,” said UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis.

“These countries have been subject to the weight of IMF loans and the conditions that come with them – forcing governments to cut spending on public health in order to reduce their debt.”

Mr Prentis noted that the recent G20 summit had agreed to make €300m available to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to help combat Ebola.

“However, two weeks after the summit, it still hasn’t been agreed whether this emergency relief will be in the form of debt relief, or loans that will push these poor countries further into debt – and prevent the vital investment in basic health care that they so clearly need.

“This is why this project is so vital.”

The grade union project organised through the Public Services International federsion (PSI) will run over two years, with a total budget of €370,000. UNISON agreed to donate £100,000 from the union’s international development fund.

It has a trade union focus, with three aims:

  • to support trade union campaigns to improve the working conditions of health and related workers in the affected countries in West Africa;
  • to promote the role of unions as part of planning to contain Ebola;
  • to campaign for improved and expanded public health systems in west Africa.

PSI will recruit six staff from local trade unions, training them to be advocates.

The project will be run in the three most badly affected countries – Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea – as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It will also employ a representative to lobby the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the ILO regional office in Nigeria.

The overall project will be managed by a staff member in Ghana.

“This project is about equipping trade unions in the region to be advocates for properly funded health care,” said Mr Prentis.

“They will lobby their own governments, urging them to invest in public health, and challenge the global financial institutions on a regional level to face the implications – the loss of life – of forcing countries to cut back on public expenditure.”