GREEN Party president Peter Sinkamba says Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya is being selfish and greedy by denying medical students working in COVID-19 isolation centres any incentives.

And Zambia Union of Nurses (ZUNO) secretary general Fray Michelo says the union is not aware that some students are working in isolation centres.

Last Thursday, Dr Chilufya announced that some health workers in COVID-19 isolation centres would not be given incentives as it was part of their training.

“We don’t keep clinical and medical students in training so that we start giving them incentives. We keep them in training so that they continue training as part of the human capital enhancement programme so that we can have the back-up of human capital. Look, if those are remaining with two months to graduate, it means that in three months’ time, you will have hundred more of clinical officers and doctors to push to the front line. So, it is part of a ‘war strategy,’ a public health war. So, they are not being paid extra for being taught, no, they are just continuing to train,” said Dr Chilufya.

But Sinkamba said Dr Chilufya was abusing students.

“You see, of course, it is important that students are trained in various aspects. But when it is a special programme like COVID-19 where the Ministry is not running on its own budgeted resources, which resources have been appropriated by Parliament, it is in imperative that those students, who are going to volunteer to participate on the battlefront, as they calling it, they must definitely be paid what is due to them because it is a risk! For example, every doctor, every nurse or every other medical official is assigned for COVID-19 battle they are entitled to risk allowances,” Sinkamba said.

He said it was wrong for Dr Chilufya to deny students their entitlements for risking their lives.

“That risk allowance must cut across boards, meaning that it must be paid to whoever is going to go to the battlefront, including those students, who volunteer to be part and parcel of the programme. Of course, we appreciate that they need to learn how to handle cases, including high contagious diseases like COVID-19. But if all other workers are given a special package beyond their salaries, then all those students must also be entitled to that, that is the logic. It is wrong for the Minister to say it’s part of their training,” he said.

“When you mobilize, even students, for example, when we have a census, we normally mobilize students to be part and parcel of the census registration and administer those surveys, which the Zambia Statistics Agency (ZSA) does, the students are paid for that. Even during the voters’ registrations, students who are going to be recruited to be part and parcel to assist with the registration are paid allowances. So, really, I think it is wrong, it is being selfish for the Minister of Health to state that the students who are in the battlefront are not going to be paid anything because they are learning, I think that is being selfish!”

Sinkamba said the Ministry of Health was abusing medical personnel by not giving them incentives despite the huge resources being channelled towards the COVID-19 fight.

“That kind of notion should not be entertained and I think it should be brought to the attention of the President that this is what is happening in the Ministry where the Ministry is now abusing students because of their situation! They are so desperate, they can do anything. It’s like a child who is desperate for school fees and the parents cannot afford to give that girl-child school fees and then that girl-child goes into prostitution and tries to get money to get herself into school. I think it is exactly the same situation; the students are in there being abused by the Ministry because they are so desperate,” said Sinkamba.

“I don’t think we need to reach that level. There has been a lot of good will from the donors those that have provided resources at bilateral level; countries like the US, Britain and others have pumped money into the COVID fight and we have had also cooperates that have donated significant amounts of money, which should go towards paying every one, including the students. So, I think Dr Chilufya should not be so greedy and try and capitalize on those resources and chew alone, I think let everyone get a fair share of what they deserve from their contribution in the war against COVID-19.”

And in a separate interview, Michelo said the Zambia Union of Nurses was not aware that some medical students were working in isolation centres.

“To start with, we don’t know what was the arrangement; all we know that they had remained in school because those who remained were those students who were supposed to be doing their exams, that’s all we know. That arrangement of saying, ‘they were actually assisting and that there is something that they need to be paid,’ that we are not aware. We will find out from the training institutions what the arrangement was when the students remained in school. We will definitely find out now that it is coming up as a concern,” said Michelo.

“If at all from the word go they remained in school for the purpose of helping out and if there was any agreement to say, ‘there will be an allowance that would be given to them,’ definitely, they have to be given. But if there was no such an arrangement, then it is very difficult to claim what was not arranged from the word go. So, the schools, for now, where the students are the ones to explain or we will find out from the schools what was the arrangement for these students to remain in schools. Like I said, all we know is that the students, who remained were in an exam class.”