Liberia: Health Minister-designate Faces a “Messy Sector” with Confidence and Courage

Health Minister-designate, Dr. Louise Mapleh Kpoto

Delivers a transformational healthcare delivery agenda to Senators on Capitol Hill

When Health Minister-designate, Dr. Louise Kpoto took the stage at her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, she made a bold, ambitious, and fearless pronouncement—that she would endeavor to make the Liberia healthcare system second to none in the Western African region. It is a herculean task, to say the least; few say it is doable. Gladly, Dr. Kpoto is one of the very few optimists.

“We can transform the health sector of this country if we decide to treat it as a priority and make the needed investment,” she said. “This is doable. We can make Liberia’s healthcare delivery system second to none in West Africa with the requisite investments.”

With her appointment by President Joseph Nyuma Boakai about two weeks ago, it was evident that the Minister of Health-designate is poised to take on the daunting task of addressing the numerous challenges facing the country's health sector.

At the confirmation hearing, Dr. Kpoto acknowledged the dire state of the healthcare system, which suffers from a lack of infrastructure, a shortage of personnel, inadequate medical equipment, limited data processing technology, and insufficient financial and insurance resources.

But despite these obstacles, Dr. Kpoto expresses confidence and determination in her ability to lead the transformation of the healthcare sector. With the necessary support, she believes that Liberia can aspire to have a healthcare system that rivals the best in the region.

Improving the healthcare system is key to the sustainability and survival of every nation, and as such good health services should be made available to the population. According to the World Health Organization (WHO 2002), effective healthcare delivery functions through service provision, resource generation, financing, and stewardship.

The Liberian healthcare system faces various systemic challenges. The healthcare system in Liberia lacks infrastructure, adequate staff, advanced medical instruments, data processing technology, and sufficient financial and insurance resources. 

When it comes to infectious disease, the Liberian healthcare system’s core abilities to detect and respond to infectious diseases have been improved since the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, a concept note of a German-sponsored project launched in 2020, said. However, the system cannot effectively prevent acute outbreaks of disease or quickly contain them with effective countermeasures.

The three-year project, 2020-2023, was commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

“The system lacks infrastructure, adequate disease surveillance, and data processing to identify initial cases,” the project titled Health Systems Strengthening and Epidemic Prevention Liberia, indicated. “In addition, most laboratories have poor diagnostic facilities with a limited number of skilled staff.”

It said emergency care is fragile at all levels of the system, and it also lacks coordination and functioning communication.

Despite these challenges, the Minister said that she will ensure that

Successive authorities at the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Public Health Institute on Liberia (NPHIL), set ambitious targets to reduce the risk of epidemics and improve access to secure and high-quality health services—with the overarching aim is to provide adequate general health care. 

Recognizing the urgency of the situation in the country, the Minister-designate said she is ready to confront the issues head-on, especially the issues of service delivery, and the availability of medical supplies at health facilities across the country.

“I’m aware of the numerous challenges within the three stages of a health program in Liberia. When given the opportunity to serve in this capacity, we would ensure improved service delivery and drug availability across the country,” she said.

She also pinpointed demotivation among health workers as one of the major issues confronting health leading to low service delivery.

According to Dr. Kpoto, volunteer workers will be placed on the payroll under her administration as Minister of Health.

As a way of avoiding a conflict of interest, Kpoto told the Senators that she plans to disassociate herself from a private clinic owned by her family.

Madam Louise Kpoto pointed out a decline in budgetary allocation in the national budget, adding that health funds should be increased. She intends to initiate a program that would allow money generated in various government hospitals placed for government revenue.

She also stressed the need for a health insurance scheme, which she said would be a major pillar under her leadership if confirmed. She added she will be rigid on the issues of monitoring and evaluation.

“We also need to establish a trauma unit so that our people who are going through traumatic conditions can have a place to go for attention,” she said.

The trauma unit, when established, she said will cater to emergency health patients who suffer from severe burn accidents among others 

The nominated minister of health could not project the total funds needed for the health sector, but promised to carry on an assessment for informed budget decision-making.

While Kpoto reemphasized the need for quality insurance, training, and placing the right people in the right places for productivity, she frowns on the infiltration of politics in the health sector, noting that it is affecting the sector negatively.

The Health Minister-designate, however, subscribes to creating a law on abortion, but on medical grounds.

Zac Sherman contributed to this article.