Just as the deadly Ebola virus is fast receding in Liberia, paving the way for the commencement of the rebuilding of our healthcare delivery system, an eminent and courageous Liberian surgeon has laid bare before us the real status of our health system.
From there we can move forward to reconstruct our healthcare delivery system, taking, hopefully, the fullest advantage of our own resources and those of our foreign partners, particularly China and the United States, which have already pledged to help us do it.
Dr. Vuyu K. Golakai, dean of the University of Liberia’s A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine and vice president of the UL’s College of Health Sciences, made a scathing attack on the nation’s health system in a recent presentation in Monrovia.
Addressing the celebration of the 21st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights last Wednesday, Dr. Golakai described Liberia’s health system as one belonging to the 18th century. Liberians, he said, “are surviving only on the goodwill gestures of foreign partners.”
The outspoken doctor laid the blame squarely at the doorsteps of the Liberian government.
The government, he lamented, has failed to allocate the requisite (indispensable, mandatory) resources to give Liberia an efficient healthcare system.
The result of this woeful neglect, we can all see, is that millions of Liberians have been deprived of proper health services, leaving them too sick or too weak to carve a decent livelihood for their families, or to contribute meaningfully to national development.
He made reference to a matter which is one of the constant themes in the Daily Observer: the deplorable state of Liberia’s sanitation. This, he said, is the reason Ebola still exists in Monrovia.
A sad commentary, is it not that one Health Minister, on taking office few years ago, was advised by this newspaper to pay serious attention to sanitation. His reply: “I did not become Minister of Health to clean anyone’s backyard.”
The good but shortsighted doctor forgot that prevention is more than half the cure. Maybe the time has come to return to the Ministry’s old nomenclature (classification): Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
Dr. Golakai was also highly critical of his medical colleagues who, like him, on Liberian taxpayers’ money, had received extensive medical training abroad, but failed to return home to serve. He is in a good position to be critical.
One of the most brilliant students Cuttington (now Cuttington University) has ever produced, Dr. Golakai took his MD degree from Hadassah Medical School, Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He immediately returned home and served at the Government Hospital at Snapper Hill, and also in the clinic of his mentor, Dr. H. Nehemiah Cooper—the Cooper Clinic (now the Cooper SDA Clinic).
Following his residency at the Frankfurt AM Main Univeristy in Germany, he again returned to serve his people.
Following the April 12, 1980 coup d’etat, Vuyu succeeded Dr. H. Nehemiah Cooper as the JFK’s Chief Medical Officer.
Vuyu also served at the Bong Mines Hospital.
Like many of these medical practitioners who are still abroad, however, Dr. Golakai, too, with his family left the country during the war and ended up in Zimbabwe and Botswana, serving in university hospitals in both countries. Invited by his Botswana medical students whom he had taught in Zimbabwe, he even helped create Botswana University’s College of Medicine. But not long after the war ended Dr. Golakai dutifully returned home to serve his people. Many of his colleagues, especially in America and Europe, have not brought themselves to take that leap of faith. Three things are stopping them, we reckon: first, the huge salaries and other emoluments they earn, coupled with the advanced medical environment in which they work; second, some of their children may be still in school; thirdly, they are awaiting retirement. We pray that by that time, they will not be too old, or too sick to serve.
In thanking Dr. Golakai for this timely reminder, we pray that all who work in the healthcare system and the public in general will put pressure on the Liberian government to follow up quickly with the pledges our foreign partners, especially the Chinese and Americans, made to help us rebuild and modernize our healthcare delivery system.
Now is the time, to quote Canon Burgess Carr’s Sermon at President W.R. Tolbert, Jr.’s 1976 Inauguration, “to restore the years the locusts have eaten” and turn our healthcare delivery system into one that will match the demands of 21st century Liberia.