The Ministry of Health’s (MOH) plan to build 100 housing units for “dedicated health workers” in eight of the 15 counties is an impressive beginning. We are positive that Health Minister Bernice Dahn will not stop there.
There are three aspects to the plan that we believe are impressive. First, the Minister is starting this in the southeast, not because she hails from there. But she knows that it is historically among the most neglected parts of the country. Remember that before the 2011 elections the people in some parts of southeastern Liberia threatened to boycott those elections in protest against the lack of healthcare facilities and good roads? The complaints came notably from Maryland and Grand Kru Counties.
The counties and their projected units are 15 each in Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee, Grand Gedeh and Sinoe; while River Cess and Gbarpolu get 10, and Montserrado, 5.
The MOH has meanwhile rolled out a US$1.7 billion plan to improve the healthcare delivery system throughout the country. We trust that when the details of the plan are fully known, the southeast will feature prominently among the beneficiaries.
But housing units for health workers is a good beginning. Poor housing is one of the primary impediments to attracting key professionals, such as nurses and teachers, to the country’s interior.
The second aspect of the housing plan that makes it impressive is its distinct affordability—the monthly mortgage payment of US$15 per month. Nowhere in the world can that be beaten. We only pray that this is realistic and that the relatively low cost per unit—US$5,000—will suffice for the efficient construction of each unit of the two- bedroom facility.
The National Housing Authority (NHA), which will be responsible for the implementation of the project, should ensure that the units are decently and properly built. There should be in each inside kitchen, toilet and bath facilities. There should also be, if not running water, wells or boreholes nearby, so that our nurses and other paramedics will not have to send their children to the creeks or streams for water.
We are compelled to recall the terrible and costly mistakes that were made on the US$2 million housing project around 2006-7 on the Robertsfield Highway. A Saudi prince had generously put up the money to help poor Liberia provide better housing for at least some of its people. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf put Harry Greaves in charge of the project, we believe, because he was known to be an efficient financial manager. But the project failed miserably not only because the construction was substandard, but also because there were hardly any toilet facilities, and certainly no water in sight!
When the Saudi prince came to inspect the project, he was bitterly disappointed, and that was the end of his generosity to Liberia.
This reminder is, we believe, extremely important for the National Housing Authority, which we hope, pray and trust will do everything possible to avoid such a stupid and unconscionable mistake.
One last advice to the Housing Authority: We hope that NHA, in designing each unit, would make allowance for extension. NHA knows how big Liberian families can be. In addition to the nuclear family, there is also the extended one—parents, sisters, brothers, the nieces, nephews, cousins and friends who may need shelter and care at one point or another. It would be useful to reserve for each unit, at least one lot.
The MOH housing project is impressive, thirdly, because it has been prudently (carefully, wisely) conceived. MOH has involved Liberia’s premiere mortgage lending bank, the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), to handle the mortgage aspect. There will be no need for beneficiaries to bother with MOH. They will deal directly with LBDI for the lending and the monthly repayment over the many years they will need to maintain their creditworthiness with the bank.
MOH knows that they have—or should have—health facilities in all counties. So Minister Dahn is, we are sure, thinking of finding the resources to extend the housing initiative to the other seven counties.
Beyond that, MOH must further dream of building appropriate housing for medical doctors and other senior health and medical personnel. The Ministry must dream of the day when they will be able to deploy at least five medical doctors in each county in the short to medium term. They, too, will need good housing.