Former South African President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, said, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
If ever the public health workers thought that Health Minister-designate, Dr. Bernice Dahn, “hates” them, she has now turned the page and has extended to them an olive branch, which means a branch of peace and reconciliation.
At the close of the three-day Health System Assessment and Investment Plan Consensus Meeting last weekend, Dr. Dahn, who has served since 2006 as Deputy Minister for Health Services and Chief Medical Officer, showed that she has more “love” in her heart for the health workers than “hate.”
As a first step in this direction, she vowed to do all in her power, if confirmed by the Liberian Senate, to absorb all health workers on the government payroll.
“We will do all we can to bring them on the payroll. Even if it means that we must sit in hot offices at the Ministry just to get them on the payroll, that will be done. We are willing to make the sacrifices in order to get our health workers on the payroll.”
The audience responded to these unexpected but highly positive remarks by giving her a standing ovation.
Our Health Correspondent, Alaskai Moore Johnson, who has for many years extensively covered health issues in Liberia, said the issue of health workers has been the most contentious between the Ministry of Health and National Health Workers’ Association of Liberia (NHWAL). Another contention has been the reinstatement of their dismissed leaders—Messrs. Joseph Tamba, president and George Poe Williams, secretary general. Outgoing Health Minister, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, vowed that under his watch as Minister, the two men would “NEVER come back to work for the Ministry.”
There are more than 2000 public health workers who are not on the payroll; but some are on “incentives.” Someone assuring that she will selflessly do all to absorb them is an act of good will that must be commended, embraced and reciprocated by the leadership of the NHWAL and the health workers in general.
One of Liberia’s most senior medical doctors, who begged anonymity, told this newspaper that the health workers need to give Dr. Dahn the chance to prove herself wrong since she is going to be the one “calling the shots” and not saying ‘Yes, sir,’ to someone else.”
What this doctor meant is that when confirmed, Health Minister Dahn will now be wielding the gavel and will be able, in consultation with her boss, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the Civil Service Agency (CSA), to decide the health workers’ fate.
We think Dr. Dahn meant what she said to the conferees, most of whom were representatives of international organizations— the World Health Organization (WHO), European Union (EU), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), IRISH Aid, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Bank Group, etc.
We call on the NHWAL leadership and all the other health workers to heartily accept Dr. Dahn’s olive branch, in order to move the health sector forward for the betterment of ordinary Liberians.
Initially, NHWAL president Joseph Tamba received in good faith the Health Minister-designate’s first public pronouncement.
We hope that upon confirmation, Minister Dahn will move to re-instate the two dismissed NHWAL officials and gradually work with the health workers toward mutually resolving other contentious issues that have so badly plagued our health sector.