Corruption in the Time of Ebola: A Review of Amy Maxmen's Ebola's Unpaid Heroes

Though Ebola has largely slipped from the headlines in favor of Zika, the infectious disease du jour, there is still much to learn from history's largest outbreak of this deadly disease. Currently, all three of the major countries that the virus ravaged are free from transmission and it will be vitally important for their surveillance systems to be vigilant for any recrudescence that may occur.

Several books have been written on the outbreak by now and I am sure many more will be written. The latest that I have read is a small book by Newsweek's Amy Maxmen entitled Ebola's unpaid heroes: How billions in aid skipped those at the frontline.

In this book Maxmen takes the reader through the experience of healthcare workers dealing with Ebola in Sierra Leone. In the midst of widespread death, chaos, and societal unrest she details these workers struggles to be paid for the work they were heroically performing. Not only were these individuals not being paid the hazard pay they were due but overt fraud was occurring. As Maxmen writes:

Yet almost immediately, the World Bank— a far larger contributor of funds— noticed signs of corruption in Sierra Leone’s health system. When they looked at the pay lists of frontline staff created by officials in the Ministry of Health, they discovered “ghostworkers”— aliases, family members, and mistakes in enumeration— all of which meant certain people might be collecting more money than they deserved.

This scenario caused the World Bank to innovate and use electronic payments directly to workers. The use of text messaging in the process led to the system becoming known as "mobile-money". Such a process stopped skimming by corrupt local officials.

I recommend this short book to all who are interested in Ebola, global health, and international funding mechanisms. That corruption exists and money vanishes before it reaches its intended target was something I knew occurred with regularity but I never really understand the mechanics of how it happens. Ms. Maxmen's work concretizes how, during what was an existential crisis caused by a parasitical virus, certain parasitical looting humans--in a nation in which individual rights and the rule of law are empty concepts--made the battle much more difficult.