Mobile cash transfer system or digital wallets played a major role in the fight against the spread of Ebola in West Africa, a study by United Nations revealed.
By using digital system to pay Ebola response workers, Sierra Leone successfully reduced the time spent, avoiding large-scale strikes and ensuring a stable workforce to defeat Ebola, the United Nation’s survey dubbed ‘Better Than Cash Alliance’ showed.
The digital wallet system led to a cost savings of US $10.7 million for the government, taxpayers, development partners and response workers. It also prevented the loss of around 800 working days per month from the Ebola response workforce, helping save lives during this critical time.
Moreover, the study estimated that the method saved response workers around $80,000 per month in travel costs by avoiding lengthy journeys to cash payment centers.
“Sierra Leone’s firsthand experience with digital payments and its impact on Ebola response and control taught us that, governments like ours must take this growing payment system seriously as it can significantly contribute to inclusive growth and transparency,” commented Momodu Kargbo, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Finance and Economic Development.
“One of the major challenges of cash is that it is expensive, slow, difficult to transport and vulnerable to theft, graft and payment errors. Late or incorrect payments to response workers often led to strikes,” he added.
Sierra Leone was hardly hit during the Ebola outbreak, with more than 14,000 cases of the 28,000 total reported cases in West Africa. The country had less than 50 ATMs when the outbreak struck. Also, the response workers were spread across Sierra Leone’s 14 districts.
However, the country had a mobile network coverage nearly 95% of the country, and more than 90% of response workers had access to a mobile phone.
“Ebola response workers put their lives at risk every day. It was vitally important they received all the money they earned, with no skimming or theft. They got it immediately, as their families had no other income; and only legitimate workers got paid – no one else. Paying Ebola response workers directly into a digital wallet instead of cash met these goals, saved lives and over $10 million,” said Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the Better than Cash Alliance.