Faith-based Health Providers Are Our True Partners’

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Former Health and Social Welfare Minister, Dr. Walter Traub Gwenigale, has stated that faith-based health providers in Liberia are the country’s true partners when it comes to making healthcare available for the locals.

According to Dr. G, as he is affectionately called by junior medical doctors, most of these faith-based institutions, which are buttressing the national government’s efforts in providing healthcare for Liberians, came to this country many years before the establishment of most health-related non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The former Minister made these assertions last Saturday in Gbarnga, Bong County, when he was honored by the African Fundamental Baptist Mission Health Center (AFBM-HC).

Speaking further, Dr. G named the Lutheran-owned Phebe Hospital in Suacoco, Bong County, and Curran Hospital in Zorzor, Lofa County, the Ganta United Methodist Hospital in Ganta, Nimba County, and the Episcopal Church-run Bolahun Health Center in Bolahun, Lofa County, as some of the facilities where Liberians have sought medical care beginning as far back as the 1920s, when graded motor roads hadn’t reached those “nooks and crannies of Liberia.”

He thanked these churches for being Liberia’s long-time health partners.

Dr. G., who joined President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Cabinet in 2006 as Health and Social Welfare Minister, told the audience that when Ebola struck Liberia in March 2014, “many NGOs came and helped us. Those NGOs received most of the money that came to combat the deadly Ebola virus. Ebola is gone; nearly all of them (NGOs), who are our partners, too, have now left us and gone back to the places they came from. But we are still here with our very long time health partners—the faith-based health providers.”

He thanked the AFBM-HC for showering praises and honor on him for what they said is his longtime, dedicated service to the health sector in Bong County, and Liberia. He also thanked the AFBM-HC for their contributions to providing affordable healthcare for residents of Gbarnga City and its surrounding communities.

“This honor that you have given me is not for me alone, but for my wife, Carmen Gwenigale, who has allowed me to stay in Liberia to help my people,” he added.

Dr. G, who is a surgeon, told his audience that while he was grateful for the very beautiful African attire and certificate, he should not be one of those being decorated with flowers, but rather AFBM-HC – many other faith-based health institutions providing medical care for Liberians. He said everything he did when he served as Bong County Health Officer and Minister of Health and Social Welfare, he did for Liberia and because those positions mandated him to do them.

It was during his tenure as the County Health Officer in 1992 when authorities of the AFBM started operations in Gbarnga and later approached him in 1996 about their desire to open the health arm of the Mission and so needed his approval.

He gave them the go-ahead to start their health program but with oversight from the county health team. The Mission later added another health component to their program—the Baptist College of Missionaries and Physician Assistants (PAs), where health workers are trained along with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as their chief mission in propagating the Kingdom of God in whatever they do.

Currently, the AFBM-PA has 21 students, who are in training to become PAs.

Earlier, Mr. Aaron Garyemah, administrator or the health center and several other speakers, stated that they were grateful to God that since 1996, He had sustained them. According to Garyemah, they saw it fit at this time to honor Dr. G. because they wanted to appreciate him for his many contributions to the nation’s health sector. He spoke of how Dr. G is a principled individual when it comes to doing the right thing.

He recalled that Dr. Gwenigale at a point in time closed down their health facility for things they hadn’t done right. And when they had made them right, he reopened their facility.

In his remarks, Assistant Health Minister for Administration, Mr. John M. Linga, stated that the provision of healthcare in Liberia cannot be done by the government alone. “When it comes to healthcare delivery partners such as you are always around to stand with us.”

Asst. Min. Linga stated that they at the Health Ministry are doing all to strengthen the public-private partnership between the government and private institutions.

About Dr. G’s Service to Bong County & Liberia

Dr. G. returned to the country in August 1973, with “a young foreign wife and a year old son and started working for Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing on September 1 as the Chief of Surgery.” He was appointed Medical Director and CEO of Phebe the following year. In that same year, he was made Medical Director (now County Health Officer—CHO) of Bong County, where the hospital is located.

He had inherited a 65-bed hospital, but between 1974 and 2003 when he left his administrative post at the hospital, he had increased the beds to 200 and the hospital campus grew to include the Rural Health Training Center for 200 students and an eye hospital built by CBM of Germany.

Even after stepping down as CHO and CEO in 2003, he continued to serve the hospital as Chief of Surgery until he was asked by President Sirleaf to join her Cabinet in 2006.

Dr. G. wrote the President on November 3, 2014, asking her permission to go into retirement in February 2015, which was also the month in which he took his “deferred annual leave.” In that same month, he turned 80. In his letter Dr. G. did not provide a reason for his request. “If my request is granted, I would like to take the month of February 2015 for my deferred annual leave and go into retirement at the end of that month.”

The former Health Minister told the President: “I have enjoyed working for my country under your wise and competent leadership. I will truly miss you and my seat in your Cabinet Room, but stand ready to advise you and my successor, should I be asked to do so.”

Dr. G. also had this to tell the President: “Because I started supervising all of the MOHSW activities in Bong County in June of 1974, I can truly say I have served my country from that time until now, and do deserve to be pensioned by the country I have served all my productive life. Therefore, I kindly request that you favorably consider my request for a pension for the years I have worked for the government of Liberia.”

He presently resides on the Phebe Hospital Compound, where he is still asked by the hospital’s administrator to perform surgeries.

About the African Fundamental Baptist Mission

AFBM was established by a group of Liberian Baptist denominations in 1992. It is headed and administered by Liberians. Its health center was added in 1996. Among the services rendered by the health facility is dentistry, along with other primary healthcare activities. The average fee paid by patients seeking medical care is around L$250, according to one of the administrators. The health center and physician assistant school run on clean energy – solar power, which provides 24/7 electricity for the entire compound.

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