The John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center (JFKMC), once Liberia’s premier referral hospital for nearly three decades, which has now become more of a primary healthcare provider, is said to be in need of more than US$180 million to regain its pre-war status. The hospital lost its tertiary capability due to the years of civil war and neglect from different regimes.
The need for that huge sum of money was made public by Minister of Health, Dr. (MD) Bernice Dahn when she formally opened a day-long seminar on Monday, October 13.
JFK administration along with authorities of the Health Ministry had called the gathering to hold discussion on a five-year strategic plan, which is aimed at bringing the hospital back to its pre-war status.
Dr. Dahn said they had met in order to “move JFK forward.” For those wondering why now since the nation has been at peace for more than a decade, this is her response: “Over the past 10 years, the Ministry of Health has been working on restoring and strengthening the primary health care services and that is because most of the people will seek health care first at the primary level before they utilize the tertiary level.”
The Health Minister further stated that in order to make impact in combating common illnesses, which can most times be easily prevented, they focused their attention on strengthening the primary healthcare level.
“Because of that today, Liberia has made some achievements. Liberia was among the first eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa that achieved MDG 4 three years before it ended [in 2015],” she stated.
Despite stating that her country has made some improvement in the healthcare at the primary level, she, however, said that the tertiary level now needs attention: “It’s only on our continent of Africa that our leaders go to another continent to seek healthcare [when they fall sick.”] According to the Minister, this is because some African countries such as Liberia can’t afford the kind of health services and investment in the sector.
Liberia’s health sector has less than U$60 million in the national budget.
The Health Minister indicated that if Liberians want to see JFK where it ought to be then everyone, especially those who share the national ‘cake,’ need to think “differently.”
Min. Dahn added that Liberians are not happy with the way JFK looks at the moment and so everyone needs now to think differently toward improving the hospital.
Earlier, Representative Johnson Toe Chea, a member of the House’s Committee on Health, Gender and Social Welfare, said that JFK would need nearly US$160 million in order to regain that status. He quoted from a draft strategic improvement document that the hospital’s administration had produced.
However, JFK said in the draft document: “The overall budget for the five-year strategic plan is estimated at US$144,539,560 (one hundred forty-four million, five hundred thirty nine thousand, five hundred sixty U.S. Dollars). The activities in the plan are expected to be funded through different sources including the Governments of Liberia, the United States of America, and other bilateral and multilateral organizations; and participation of philanthropists and citizens of the country. This Improvement Strategic Plan is in line with the Liberian government’s Investment Plan for Building a Resilient Health System (2015-2021), which also incorporates some key interventions to improve facilities in the JFK Memorial Hospital.”
The hospital presently needs 51 specialists in different disciplines but, only nine are available and 46 gaps need to be filled.
Dr. Vuyu Golakai, one of Liberia’s astute medical practitioners and surgeons, and Dean of the A. M. Dogliotti Medical College of the University of Liberia, said in 1973 when he returned to Liberia as a young medical doctor, there were at least 33 specialist medical doctors at the hospital. “To see it now having only nine specialists is saddening,” the Medical College Dean, added.
Dr. Golakai further stated that the nearly 50-year-old medical facility, serves as a useful partner to the UL Medical College and so the need to have it improved cannot be overemphasized.
He reminded the audience, the hospital’s administration that a strategic plan calls for a painful and critical look at oneself and not just praises of what they had done.
Under Chapter 60.4 of the new JFK Medical Center Act (2013), the J.F.K Memorial Medical Center consists of JFK Memorial Hospital, Tubman National Institute for Medical Arts (TNIMA), Liberian-Japanese Friendship Maternity Hospital, and Catherine Mills Mental Health Rehabilitation Facility. This Act brings the different institutions under one umbrella thereby expanding the mandate of the Center.