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Mobile money saved Sierra Leone $10m in Ebola outbreak

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Ebola2A study by the United Nations has found that cashless mobile payments to Ebola response workers in Sierra Leone, resulted in cost savings of $10.7 million and massively reduced payment times, avoiding strike action and ensuring a stable workforce to fight the disease.

The study by the Better Than Cash Alliance, a global partnership championing the transition from cash to digital payments, says the cost savings of $10.7 million for the government, tax payers, and development partners, was largely from avoiding payments to illegitimate ghost workers.

The mobile payments also prevented the loss of about 800 working days per month, and saved response workers about $80,000 per month in travel costs to payment centres to receive their money.

Sierra Leone was one of the epicentres of the Ebola outbreak, recording more than half of the 28,000 cases reported in West Africa.

Given the speed of the spread of Ebola, the government needed a more efficient and reliable way than cash to manage payments to response workers.

According to the Better Than Cash Alliance, there were less than 50 ATM’s and less than 50 point of sale terminals in Sierra Leone with majority of them deployed by only Ecobank.

However, Sierra Leone already had mobile network coverage across almost 95 per cent of the country. More than 90 per cent of response workers had access to a mobile phone, making digital payments a powerful solution.

Late or incorrect payments during past emergencies are also said to have resulted in strike action from response workers.

The Better Than Cash Alliance said Sierra Leone’s case provides a cue to governments to take early action in facilitating cashless systems especially since epidemics, conflicts and natural disasters are on the rise.

“Specifically, this case study shows how putting in place critical infrastructure and public education before a crisis hits can have a major impact in saving money, and more importantly, saving lives,” the alliance said.

The Managing Director of the Better Than Cash Alliance Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, was quoted as saying: “Sierra Leone’s experience shows the critical importance of developing and implementing national policy frameworks and supporting infrastructure to drive effective and flexible digital payments ecosystems in advance of humanitarian crises.”

By Emmanuel Odonkor

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