MASERU – The Global Fund Lesotho is investigating some nurses who allegedly abused the fund’s facility for paying allowances to health workers.
The Global Fund pays salary top-ups to nursing officers, nursing sisters and assistants who are exposed HIV and Tuberculosis.
Nurses from government hospitals and the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (Chal) clinics are benefiting from the fund.
The idea is to compensate the health workers for their exposure to HIV and Tuberculosis.
The allowances are given to health workers who come in direct contact with infected people during their line of work.
The allowance is considered an incentive for the risk that they take.
But recently the Global Fund discovered that some health workers were defrauding the scheme by making double claims.
Thousands of maloti have been lost to unscrupulous health workers who have tricked the system to get more than they are supposed to.
The deputy national co-ordinator of Global Fund Lesotho, Mokhothu Makhalanyane, confirmed that an investigation into the scheme is underway and those found to have made double claims will be asked to pay back.
Makhalanyane said the investigation had so far nabbed a number of dishonest health workers.
“We have discovered that some beneficiaries of the grants have made multiple registrations so they can receive more money,” Makhalanyane told the Sunday Express in an interview last week.
Over the past few months some health workers have alleged that the scheme has been looted by senior health officials.
Some complained that they were not being paid on time while others said they were being paid far less than what they were supposed to get.
Others said they had not received the allowances at all.
Makhalanyane said it is these allegations and accusations that prompted the investigation.
He said although the investigation had so far discovered fraud by some health workers there was no evidence to prove that some senior health officials had embezzled the funds from the scheme.
“It is not true that someone is embezzling the money. Instead some of the health workers have been making multiple claims by registering two names.
Those have been asked to return the money,” Makhalanyane said.
He however said some of the health workers had not received their allowances on time because headquarters had delayed to approve the payments.
He said this was because there were concerns about the double claims that some of the health workers had submitted.
Makhalanyane said they have however since paid the health workers the arrears.
A nursing officer at a government hospital gets a monthly allowance of M498 while a nursing sister gets M730.
A nursing assistant at a government hospital gets M855.
A nursing officer under the Chal project gets M832, a nursing sister M730 and a nurse assistant M705.
Health workers have however complained about the difference in the allowances.
Makhalanyane however said Global Fund Lesotho did not have anything to do with the sums because it relied on proposals from the government and Chal.
Health workers who spoke to this paper said it was not true that health workers were making multiple claims because senior officers were the ones who draw the list of people who would receive the funds.
“The list is typed by the senior officers. All we do is to put our signatures before our names. There is no way anyone can manipulate the list,” a nurse at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital said.
Nurses and other health practitioners insisted they had not misappropriated their risk allowances.
Nurses say they have not received the money as they should since they were introduced to the scheme two years ago.
Nurses who work at Chal clinics said they only received their allowances for January to October in November last year.
“We received M4 200,” said a health practitioner who works in a Chal clinic.
“Government employees were given anything between M1 200 and M3 000. In December government employees received money and we did not. We thought they were trying to make the money even to ours. But in January again we did not get anything but government workers were given some money.”
“We are confused by the differences. We are not well informed about the exact amounts we should get and when we should get them.”
Some health workers have not received the incentives at all even though they work under the same risky conditions as everybody else.
Ward attendants at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Lesotho’s only referral hospital, said they have not received a cent of the intensives since the risk allowances were introduced.
“We are as exposed to infectious diseases as everyone else. We might even be more exposed given the kind of work we do. We wash patients’ sheets and we don’t even have protective clothing. Yet the government has decided that we do not deserve the incentives. It is so annoying,” the warder said.
On Thursday Health Minister Mphu Ramatlapeng told parliament that only selected health care givers were currently benefiting from the grants.
Ramatlapeng said her ministry had agreed with Global Fund that the eighth round of the grants would be used to improve health workers’ salaries to dissuade them from leaving the country for greener pastures.
“The agreement by the Global Fund Round Eight is to help the Ministry of Health to implement the retention strategy to slightly increase salaries for workers who are the backbone in the ministry for a while,” Ramatlapeng told parliament.
She said the strategy would be used while the Ministry of Public Service makes preparations to implement its own strategy which would see more health workers staying in the country when their salaries are improved.
The nurses’ speculation comes just when three major donors towards the Global Fund have terminated payments pending investigations of misappropriation of grants by beneficiary countries.
Germany, Ireland and Sweden have suspended the monies they had pledged for 2011 while awaiting an investigation into the fraud and misuse of money in four countries – Mauritania, Mali, Zambia and Djibouti.
Lesotho is one of 145 countries that benefit from the fund.