Liberia: House Votes to Increase Support for ‘County Hospitals’ in 2023 Budget
— Currently, funding for nearly all of the counties' hospitals falls between US100K - US$150K despite the enormous burden they have in providing services such as emergency care.
The House of Representatives has voted to increase support for all “county hospitals” through the 2023 budget to improve access to public health facilities in the 15 counties.
The health funding is aimed at improving overall health and preventing poor health, such as through youth health services and essential vaccines.
Currently, funding for nearly all of the counties' hospitals falls between US$100,000 and US$150,000 despite the enormous burden they have in providing services such as emergency care, inpatient care, and laboratory testing, but most of them also deliver rehabilitation, long-term care, and primary care to thousands of patients yearly.
The financial struggles of most of these counties’ hospitals, which had now left many struggling to survive, resulted in the loss of both the emergency department and other outpatient services, and residents of the community must now travel a long distance to the country's capital or any of the few major referral hospitals for emergency or advanced treatment.
This not only strains the resources of these major hospitals, which are already stretched thin, but it also raises the likelihood of health problems staying misdiagnosed because many rural Liberians may be unable to pay the price of getting care outside of the counties’ hospitals.
In perspective, the 2022 budget for the Saclepea Comprehensive Health Center in Nimba County, is US$75,000, while US$100,000 is allocated for the only hospital (Liberian Government Hospital) in Grand Bassa, the fourth populated county in Liberia.
And in Margibi County, the C.H. Rennie Hospital, the only Government referral Hospital in Margibi County, which is also a populated county, was allotted US$100,000.
The House, considering this low funding of county hospitals, which has been so for years, made a decisive move on January 17, following a unanimous vote for all ‘county hospitals’ to receive more budgetary allocations.
The House's concerted decision was triggered by a communication from Grand Bassa County District #3 Representative, Matthew Fairplay Joe.
“The Liberian Government Hospital in Buchanan City is considered a referral hospital because it addresses the healthcare not only of Grand Bassa County but for other counties, including Rivercess, River Gee, and Sinoe, respectively,” he wrote.
“It can be recalled that the referral hospital was gutted by fire in 2018, 2019, and 2022, thereby causing colossal damage to the health facility. As a result of the fire disaster, five generators, the mortuary, laundry, kitchen, and outpatient department were all destroyed.
“It will interest you to know,” he continued, "that a few weeks ago, citizens of the county voluntarily donated 155 gallons of fuel to the hospital.”
According to Joe, the donation stemmed from a public service call made on Ablee-jay, a community radio station, that several individuals were under oxygen and that the generator was running out of fuel.
“Considering the challenges of the county’s only referral hospital, I earnestly implore my colleagues to augment the budget of the hospital to an appreciable amount that would make the hospital function fully.”
“The current amount in the (2023 draft budget) for the hospital is (US$110,000) which is a drop in the bucket. Hence, in order for the hospital to function at its full potential, there is an appealing need for increment,” the Grand Bassa representative implored.
Meanwhile, the Joint Budget Committee of the 54th Legislature is scrutinizing the 2023 budget at a cost of US$777.94 million.
It can be recalled that on Monday, December 5, 2022, President George Weah, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, submitted the 2023 budget in the amount of US$777.9 million, which is nearly US$29 million less than the US$ 806.5 million approved budget for the fiscal year 2022.
The proposed budget for 2023 is not different from the last five years, featuring massive recurrent expenditures, yet fails to reach the US$1 billion mark that has been envisioned by the government and is less than the fiscal year 2022 budget.
“We present the Draft National Budget, noting that over this fiscal year, domestic economic activities have been reasonably robust, with revenue performing better than expected at mid-year,” said Tanneh Geraldine Brunson, Deputy Finance Minister for Budget and Development Planning.
The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee is chaired by Rep. Thomas Fallah, the Chairman of the House’s Ways, Means, Finance Development Planning Committee, and co-chaired by Sen. Morris Saytumah, chairman of the Senate’s Finance and Budget Committee.