They say hope is a beautiful thing. According to one definition hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.
It was hope for alleviating the pains of Liberian women suffering from cancer that led Dr. Wilhemina Jallah to establish the Hope for Women International Hospital in her native Paynesville. What started as a hut in a semi-forested land in 2012 is now, three years later, a fully-fledged referral hospital of international renown.
In an interview with the Daily Observer after Hope for Women International Hospital celebrated its third anniversary on Saturday, October 17, Dr. Jallah gave a candid explanation of why and how the hospital came about and the services it now provides.
A trained OB/GYN – a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology – Dr. Jallah noticed that a lot of women were coming to the JFK Hospital with cases of cervical cancer. Unable to handle the cases, Jallah took it upon herself to cater to the needs of these women.
“The cancer program started at John F. Kennedy Hospital and later moved out of JFK. It was late 2010; I left the hospital and took a one room office offered to me by Dr. William Taylor Neal of the Poly International Clinic on 20th Street in Sinkor,” said Dr. Jallah.
A rise in the number of women coming with cases of cancer led Jallah to relocate her center to its present location off A.B. Tolbert Road in Paynesville.
According to Jallah, the present hospital started as a hut in what was then a semi forested land owned by her family. “Interestingly, when I was a little girl I always wanted to be a doctor and wanted to help people. Even when Paynesville was a forest, I usually said that I want my clinic in Paynesville. So moving Hope for Women International Hospital was a natural progression of my hope in the Lord,” she said.
From her single hut “in the forest,” Jallah started treating women from all walks of life beset by cancer. As fate would have it, Jallah invited some doctor friends from the US in 2012 who did a screening of over 1,000 women. Results sent from the US revealed lots of cases of not only cervical but breast cancer as well. Monies made from the donated medication from the US and for treatment were put into clearing the land for major development.
“From the hut we moved into the OPD (out-patient department), that’s the main building leading from the entrance. Since more patients needed admission we constructed two semiprivate and a general ward totaling nine beds,” added Dr. Jallah. She further revealed that after the screening people started coming in with cases of lymph, blood, eye and other forms of cancer, even leukemia.
This revelation led Dr. Jallah and her husband to see the need to expand the hospital, accomplishing that with private funds. The hospital is now a 30 bed in-patient hospital comprising three buildings offering a variety of services including: obstetrics, gynecology, surgery, infertility program, cervical and breast cancer program, chemotherapy, palliative care, full lab including PSA test, drug screening, ultrasound, EKG, breathing treatment for asthmatic, care for sexual and gender based violence, family planning, vaccination, among others.
“Today we have patients calling from overseas to come and receive treatment at the Hope for Women International. Since we now provide services for men and children as well, we get referrals and calls from all over Liberia,” she added.
Speaking during the third anniversary celebrations, which saw a ‘health walk’ from Congo Town to the hospital in Paynesville, Cllr Yvette Chesson-Wrueh, the head of the Angie Brooks Center for Women’s Empowerment and an avid supporter of Hope for Women International, lauded Dr. Jallah for her contribution to the people of Liberia and pledged to provide more support to the hospital.
What started as the vision of a young girl to help heal her people has now turned into an international referral hospital putting Liberia’s healthcare professionals on the world stage. Although she wouldn’t refuse the call to establish Hope for Women International hospitals across Liberia, Jallah said that she wants to make the Paynesville hospital “a renowned center of excellence before considering such endeavors.”
“I always wanted to help people. I trusted in the Lord and He directed me on this path. Our motto is: ‘Beware of Cancer, It Can Kill; Come Sooner and Do Better.’ Most cancers are preventable if detected at an early stage so come sooner. If you are feeling anything strange in your body, come and see us,” she said.
Gender Minister Julia Duncan Cassell, in remarks, said the government has been involved with collecting substantial data on rape and other gender based sexual violence, among a host of related issues, adding that there is a need to add cancer to the data in order to address the situation properly.
She added that “If we partner with you to help sustain this institution, many of our women, young girls, men and young boys will be able to receive the kind of treatment they need.”
The anniversary celebration began with a walk from Musu’s Spot Entertainment Center, Congo Town to HFWI grounds, with over two hundred and fifty people.
For his part, Dr. Clement Peter, who read a special statement on behalf of World Health Organization Country Representative, Dr. Alex N. Gasasire, said the provision of healthcare depends on the availability of healthcare workers to deliver it to patients, noting that international donors and organizations have increased funding for medical supplies, technology and management in recent years. He said only 5% of global resources for cancers are currently spent in developing countries.
He noted that experts believe the lack of healthcare workers has become a binding constraint to implementing many priority health programs, and has created a major bottleneck in delivering much-needed health interventions to patients.
In closing, Dr. Jallah said that she would like to obtain a mammogram machine – a specialized medical imaging machine that uses a low-dose x-ray system to see inside the breasts – for the hospital. While MRI and CAT scan machines require massive financial investments, Jallah said that obtaining and learning to read a mammogram machine would work wonders for women with breast cancer.