– Want dismissed colleagues reinstated, urge GOL to end lip service to health
Health workers in Liberia have called on President George Manneh Weah to reinstate top members of their leadership who they said were arbitrarily dismissed four years ago by former Health Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale, and end official lip service to health.
The workers maintained that their dismissed leaders, whose only wrong was to articulate the concerns of their colleagues, were slapped with dismissal in order to silence them and intimidate their colleagues.
They have also urged President Weah not to follow the path of his predecessors who only paid lip service to improving the healthcare delivery system of the country, saying that he should rather employ robust efforts that will ensure that the sector becomes vibrant with the requisite investment, and the provision of merit based opportunities.
In a meeting held with a delegation of the National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NAHWAL), officials of the Liberia Medical and Dental Council (LMDC), and others in the C. Cecil Dennis Auditorium at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the weekend, workers informed the President that the major problems that the sector faces emanated from officials of the Ministry of Health.
The President had earlier informed the workers that his call on them was to assess challenges confronting the sector in order to forge a partnership to enhance the viability of the sector; this was after he had commended them for their commitment and sacrifices to the nation and assured them of his continued support aimed at revamping the health sector.
Weah: JFK is empty
President Weah began his opening statement with what he saw at the nation’s premier referral health facility, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center, on a recent visit by he and the First Lady. He noted that he was appalled by the existing condition of the JFK—a facility that has received huge support over the past twelve years.
“I visited JFK four days ago and what I saw is not encouraging at all. I was so downhearted to see that JFK is empty. We have to train more nurses and more doctors for our people. When you don’t visit these area you feel all is well and glittering.
“But my visit four days ago tells me that we are in trouble. I think this is similar solution across the country. This is why we called upon you people to come and tell us the challenges confronting the sector and what we can do to overcome the challenges and improve our healthcare delivery system. Health is one of our pillars because when our people are not healthy then we are in trouble,” he said
The President noted that the opportunities are now at hand to improve the sector, which he said is dependent on the collective actions of every stakeholder, especially the health workers.
The Assistant Secretary General of NAHWAL, Deemi Dearzrua, noted that issues confronting the health sector include lack of effective ambulance services; adequate drug supply in a timely manner; the welfare of the health workers; the refusal of the Ministry of Labor to grant them a Certificate of Recognition; inadequate salary for health workers; lack of insurance; as well as not being covered under the Decent Work Act. They also appealed for specialized training for doctors and nurses.
“Throughout the country, you will see dilapidated health facilities, lack of staff quarters and means of transportation, lack of ambulance services, and most, if not all, of the health facilities lack essential equipment and medicines,” he said.
Dearzrua noted that health workers have suffered a lot of injustices, especially in salaries and denied opportunities by the MOH. “Top members in the leadership of the health workers were arbitrarily dismissed and have been out of job for over four years. This is very unfair,” he said.
In his recommendations, he called on the government to help revamp the healthcare infrastructure and ensure that they are equipped with the requisite equipment.
“Monrovia is the seat of government, but we all run to Tappita when there is an emergency. We also want an effective and efficient ambulance service in the country.
“There should be constant supplies of essential drugs and opportunities for health workers to seek higher education,” Dearzrua said.
He, however, pleaded with the President to reinstate NHWUL leaders Joseph Tamba and George Poe Williams.
Health Ministry indicted—“We’re agents of death”
The tough talking Secretary General of the Liberia Medical Association, Dr. Jonathan Hart, in a statement said insincerity and dishonesty are the reasons the sector is so deplorable. He said, “MOH has turned we the workers into agents of death. What we do most of the time is to monitor death.”
“You sit and see a person brought to you that could go back home to his/her family die in your hands while we run around acting busy but doing nothing; why, because they know what are needed but refuse to make them available. Where do those budgetary allotments go?” he asked rhetorically amid huge applause from his colleagues.
It is unfortunate, he said, that blood, urine, and other simple analyses cannot be done in the country because of the lack of the equipment, though budgets were allotted to purchase them. Dr. Hart recommended a thorough audit of the Ministry of Health.
“When you go to the ministry you hear somebody’s gone to China, India, Ghana, and other places, but we don’t know where these people are coming from. They are not in the health sector but they go while the major players are ignored and cannot go. What is happening? Are we really serious as a country?” he asked.
Hart also recommended that officials be banned from seeking foreign treatment in an effort to improve the domestic health sector.
He called on the President to form an independent investigative committee to review every health facility in the country, some of which are owned by top government officials, where public materials are diverted to.
“We also want for our labor health policy to also be reviewed. We are far behind in standards set for our health facilities as compared to our neighbors.
“On that committee, there should be no Minister or Deputy Minister of Health, but an independent one that will look into all of what we are saying here,” Hart suggested.
However, Deputy Health Minister and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Liberia, Dr. Francis Kateh, told the President that the meeting is a clear indication of a pro-poor government agenda.
The CMO observed that if there should be any backbone for a pro-poor government it should be the health sector, “because for our people to live and the economy to grow we need healthy people. The backbone of your pro-poor government, as I see it, should be the health sector.”
Though the country is broke, he said, the government can take advantage of available alternatives that could be utilized for the time being until the economy can improve – a time when substantial investment could be made in the sector.