PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health department has stopped the payment of monthly stipend to its rapid response teams tasked with collecting samples from suspected coronavirus patients for investigation and tracing contacts of confirmed cases, insisting the teams will be overseen and paid at the district level in future.

A notification issued by the office of the health secretary read that financial incentives to the RRTs had been withdrawn from Jan 1, 2022.

“Logistic and mobility support to the already notified RRTs will be provided by the relevant district health officers until the implementation of the Covid-19 Transition Plan and Institutionalisation of Rapid Response Mechanism,” it also said.

The RRT members, including doctors, epidemiologists and paramedics, resented the health department’s move saying it means the denial of four months due stipend to them.

Officials say RTTs will be overseen, paid at district level in future

They told Dawn that they had been carrying out the Covid-19-related contact tracing and sample collection in the province since the outbreak of the virus in early 2020.

The team members said they were concerned over the development as they wouldn’t be paid for the time and vehicle fuels they had consumed for assigned work.

Members of the RRTs had gone on a strike in Feb this year suspending Covid-19-related contact tracing and sample collection in the province over a delay in stipend payment.

A senior member of the team told Dawn that the government later released their payments for two months only leaving behind 10 months arrears.

Meanwhile, the Provincial Doctors’ Association called for the early payment of dues to RRTs saying the finance department had released Rs900 million for Covid-related activities in the province, including the payment of stipend to doctors, paramedics and epidemiologists engaged for the purpose.

In a statement, the PDA complained that withdrawal of financial incentives from 780 RRTs, which had been operating in 28 districts since April 1, 2020, had come at a time when the country had recorded a case of the sub-variant of coronavirus Omicron, which was more dangerous and transmissible than others.

It said the federal government had ordered the restoration of the National Command and Operations Centre in view of the emerging situation, while the provincial government had extended health emergency for four months.

The PDA said the decision to deprive RRTs of monthly stipend would adversely hamper the monitoring and surveillance of coronavirus in the province.

It added that the teams had been working 24/7 to ensure sample collection and assist the health department trace suspects and close contacts of the confirmed patients, which served the basis for further interventions.

“The notification should have been issued in December last year because our staff use their own vehicles and fuel before submitting their claims to the government. Now, they [RRTs] have spent money till May 10 which will not be accepted,” it said.

When contacted, officials in the health department said dues were paid to RRTs after verification of their work by the relevant DHOs.

“The government has already released the required funds but there are mistakes and incorrect entries in the recipient lists, which will be fixed to make payments,” an official at the directorate-general (health services) told Dawn.

He said the rapid response teams would continue working as the department required their services in view of the looming Covid-19 threats after the surfacing of new variants.

“The teams [RTTs] will be given logistic support and transportation facility by the relevant DHOs, who head the district health system. The DHOs are in the right position to verify the payment claims of RRTs. It was difficult for the health department to verify those claims, which delayed payments,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022

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