Health Workers Stranded As $1.5bn Mastercard Vaccine Scheme Halts

 More than 22,000 healthcare workers, including Nigerians, have found themselves in a difficult situation after a $1.5 billion COVID-19 delivery initiative, led by the Mastercard Foundation and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, suddenly halted. The funders have called for an investigation due to allegations of mismanagement.

An internal communication from July reveals that donors are focusing on issues such as unauthorized hiring, payments made without proper work verification, and missing contracts and receipts. This information comes from a Devex report.

The Saving Lives and Livelihoods (SLL) program is a significant public health partnership between a global philanthropic organization and an African institution. Unfortunately, some Nigerian workers have not received their wages for four to six months, citing reasons like an ongoing audit and procedural irregularities, including missing employment letters, signed attendance records, and worker identity verification.

One affected individual, Helen Adesina, a single parent, has faced financial difficulties since the issue began. She worked for SLL from December 2022 to July 2023, inputting patient data and is now owed approximately N150,000.

Michael Alabi, a COVID-19 vaccination team member, is also owed over N160,000 and hasn't received payment for months. He recorded patient data and issued vaccination cards.

The Africa CDC and Mastercard Foundation have declined to comment on the situation in Nigeria, according to Devex.

Over two years, the SLL initiative distributed more than 34 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in 25 African countries, provided cold chain equipment to 32 countries, and equipped 30 laboratories for genomic sequencing. This initiative involved multiple partner organizations.

The Mastercard Foundation contracted the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), a Uganda-based nonprofit operating in 31 African nations, to manage and disburse funds to organizations carrying out the program. Africa CDC oversaw the program's monitoring and evaluation.

However, due to a change in the global health emergency status of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program required strategic adjustments. A meeting was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 5 to discuss the program's future direction and challenges. A decision was made at this meeting, and by July 27, the Mastercard Foundation and Africa CDC announced an audit and a pause in spending.

They stated that program activities and financial obligations should be paused until the audit is completed, with any interim activities or expenditures requiring case-by-case approval.

By the time of this announcement, the SLL leadership had already identified governance and financial accountability challenges in the program. An internal draft report from July highlighted issues such as unsupported expenses, unauthorized salaries, missing documentation, and discrepancies in financial reporting.

The report recommended a comprehensive review of reported expenses and identified differences in country plans between AFENET and implementing organizations, leading to inconsistent financial reporting. Additionally, there were discrepancies in the reported number of vaccine doses between Africa CDC and organizations operating in various countries.

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