President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was warmly received at the White House and on Capitol Hill last Friday. President Barrack Obama and the United States Congress applauded her for her heroic leadership in the fight against Ebola, which brought the viral transmission from the highest in the Mano River basin to the lowest. This was indeed a great accomplishment, and she, the Health Ministry, the Incident Management System (IMS), the international partners, many local corporate and NGO organizations and the Liberian people as a whole deserve commendation.
President Sirleaf thanked President Obama and the Congress for the American government and people’s great contributions that seriously helped reverse the terrible onslaught of Ebola in Liberia, most especially the deployment of over 3000 troops to build Ebola treatment units throughout the country. These ETUs helped to scare the devil out of the virus, and soon, most of them went largely empty.
What did Ellen want from the world’s most powerful leader? Apparently not what he had offered her months earlier that would empower Liberia to respond robustly to any future epidemic. No. Her requests were not as specific, but more general. Helene Cooper, an eminent Liberian journalist, who is the New York Times’ White House Correspondent, reported that Ellen asked Obama for assistance with power projects, clean water and sanitation, better roads.
All of these are important and critical to national development, for without power, our economic development will remain stalled; without roads, our farmers will continue to be cut off from the markets and our business and other people from various parts of the country. Without safe water childhood diseases will remain rampant, eluding prevention and continuing to kill our children.
But—and this is a BIG BUT—what about the specific offer that President Obama himself made to Liberia, to help rebuild our healthcare delivery system, the absence of which, he said, was the primary reason the Ebola virus swept so quickly and so devastatingly through the three affected countries, making Liberia the Ebola epicenter?
We are not sure what President Obama’s decisive response to Ellen’s shopping list will be. But one thing we know from experience: donors love specifics, because specifics make it easier and quicker for them to decide and commit. Generalities, on the other hand, make response more difficult, for first, they would have to decide what their own priorities would be, and second, how much of that list to bite. On the other hand, specifics would mean the nation is decisive in its asking—THIS IS WHAT WE WANT, NOW! And the donor’s response would be equally DECISIVE, especially when the donor has already hinted its willingness to help in this particular area.
The Americans’ offer to help improve Liberia’s healthcare delivery system immediately followed the identical one by Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yue to President Sirleaf on October 28, 2014. The Chinese, who have always come forward with generous offers, such as the US$60 million “ministerial complex,” said they would help Liberia rebuild its healthcare delivery system as a post-Ebola project.
This newspaper has frequently urged the government to respond rapidly to these offers because that would be the ONE decisive post-Ebola development that Liberia could immediately benefit from. Why? Because we urgently need it!
All our existing hospitals and health centers, including the John F. Kennedy Medical Center and existing ones in the counties, need not only refurbishing but also re-equipping and re-staffing. There are also those counties, especially in the southeast and some parts of the west, where hospitals and health centers are needed. Then we have never failed to emphasize the whole issue of training—of nurses, paramedics, doctors and medical specialists of every kind. Even our only Medical School, the University of Liberia’s A.M. Dogliotti, is seriously underfunded. It seems to us that not only the USA and China but all our African, European, Asian and Australian partners would positively respond to our request for medical training.
Should this government bring itself to emphasize healthcare delivery rebuilding as one of the centerpieces of its development agenda, by the time Ellen leaves power it would be well on its way.
Heaven knows what she is waiting for to begin.