Modernizing Liberia’s Health System: China’s Pledge

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The People’s Republic of China Ambassador Zhang Yue gave Liberians great news on Tuesday, when he announced that his government was prepared to help “modernize” Liberia’s healthcare delivery system.

Our Presidential Correspondent William Harmon quoted the Ambassador as pledging that in addition to substantial contributions to the “Eradicate Ebola” campaign, China is prepared to intervene robustly in the modernization of Liberia’s health system. 

In this connection, China has already initiated the China-Africa Public Health Cooperation Plan (CAPHCP).  The Plan includes organizing 12 terms of training programs on public health, epidemic prevention and control, carrying out joint research on tropical diseases and helping to establish an information platform for public health and a monitoring network for epidemic prevention and control.

This elaborate Plan presumably includes training of doctors, nurses and paramedics and medical research.

Making this extraordinary announcement, Ambassador Zhang said China, one of Liberia and Africa’s chief partners, is prepared to take the bull by the horns and deal a decisive blow to disease, epidemics and anything that threatens our lives.

In this, China is inviting Liberia and Africa’s other development partners to join in helping our country and other African nations to develop once and for all an efficient and modern  healthcare delivery system that will be able to respond quickly and decisively to any disease outbreak and save lives.

While we thank all the other development partners—the United States, who has responded to the Ebola crisis in a very big way,  the European Union, Germany,  etc., we hope that Liberia and Africa’s other partners will join the Chinese in this important post-Ebola initiative.     

The United States was the first foreign partner to intervene in a serious way to help develop Liberia’s health system.  In the mid-1940s, the Tubman administration established the National Public Health Service (NPHS).  Dr. Joseph N. Tobga, fresh out of the Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee, became its first Director General.  It was around that time that the USA established the U.S. Medical Mission in Liberia, headed by Dr. Hildrus A. Poindexter.

It was Dr. Togba and the Ethiopian Health Minister that represented Africa at the creation of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland in 1948.  Six years later Dr. Togba was elected President of the World Health Assembly, the first black to hold that post.  It was during Dr. Togba’s tenure that yaws were eradicated from Liberia.

Dr. Togba used his connections with the WHO to obtain fellowships for scores of Liberians to study medicine in the USA, Europe, including England, Germany, Italy, Portugal and  Spain.  More followed to Israel and other countries.  This is how Liberia got its first surgeon, Dr. H. Nehemiah Cooper, first ophthalmologist, Dr. Dumah Traub, first pediatrician, Dr. Kate  Bryant, first pathologist, Dr. Rubell Brewer and first radiologist, Dr. Joseph Diggs, among others.

In later years many other Liberians followed, studying Medicine in universities all over the world.  Moreover, in 1968 the University of Liberia’s A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine was established.  Since then the college has graduated 387 medical doctors, 124 of whom were trained in the past five years.  But Liberia lost many of these qualified medical personnel in the brain drain that started with the 1980 coup d’état, followed by the civil war.

More recently the Liberian Post Graduate College of Physicians and Surgeons has been established, to train medical specialists right here in Liberia.    

We are happy that the Chinese have included in their post-Ebola healthcare delivery initiative a training component.  One of the first places the Chinese will need to stop to inquire of training needs in the health and medical field is at the A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine, where the staff has developed an elaborate and comprehensive project for health and medical training in Liberia.  A visit to this College and discussions with its staff and students is, we believe, a must for our Chinese, American and other friends interested in the training of medical and health personnel in the vast number of specializations long overdue in our country.

We wish to make one last point in this editorial: the Liberian government and people must make the best possible use of every iota of help our Chinese and other partners will render us in the development of a modern healthcare delivery system in the post-Ebola era.  We must remember that we must engage these partners with utmost seriousness and alarcrity (enthusiasm, eagerness, swiftness).  If we do not, no amount of help from these partners will do us any good.     

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