Amidst loss of jobs and income occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers in the informal sector in West Africa have struggled to access affordable healthcare, with many seeking alternative medicine, a study conducted by the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) has revealed.
The study which was carried out with support from the Solidarity Centre captured survey findings of informal sector workers from six West Africa countries, which include The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
A total of 1357 respondents participated in the survey with 826 respondents captured in the Online survey using the Google form; while 531 respondents participated through a face-to-face administration of survey questionnaire.
On how their healthcare needs are handled; 840 respondents (61.90%) indicated that they pay out of pocket. 301 respondents (22%) use alternative medicine/herbs. 60 respondents (4.42%) benefit from health insurance scheme. 51 respondents (4%) have free access to healthcare. 32 respondents (2.35%) have other means of handling their healthcare needs, while 7 respondents (0.51%) enjoyed subsidized access.
In response to specific challenges faced as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, 971 respondents, representing 71.55% had experienced reduced earning, 721 respondents (53.13%) experienced food shortage/scarcity, 582 respondents (42.88%) experienced job loss.
Speaking during the launch of the report, OTUWA President, Comrade Mademba Sock, noted that the overwhelming majority of the workforce in the ECOWAS Sub-region are in the informal economy sector, adding that in some of the countries, up to 80% – 90% of the workforce are to be found in this sector.
He explained that the objective of carrying out the survey is to seek the direct opinion of the operators in the informal economy on what they think can be done in future situation of public health emergency like COVID-19, and how the informal sector economy operators can have a voice in contributing ideas to government and other agencies/organization working to ameliorate the situation for the citizens.
He said, “We have been witness to the stressful situation workers faced at the peak of the pandemic last year and the devastating effect of lockdowns and other measures governments in the sub-region took to control the health hazards of the virus.
“Informal economy workers faced numerous challenges as everyone was required to comply with the public health measures. As most informal economy operators depend on daily sales or provision of services to earn their livelihood, both during the day and night, the curfews imposed meant either a complete or partial halt to the economic activities of the informal economy workers.”
The report recommended that national centers with the support of OTUWA identify and engage workers in the informal sector in order to give them a stronger voice in terms of advocating for improved healthcare services for themselves and members of their families.
It also recommended that OTUWA needs to support National centers as they engage with their governments on inclusive health insurance policies or schemes that also benefit workers in the informal sector.
It stated further that more research needs to be carried out by OTUWA on how informal sector workers can be organized and sensitized on healthcare packages or programs which could be of benefit to them and members of their families. Such programs could be sustained through their trade associations or unions.