President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf delivered a wide-ranging address to the nation last Wednesday, pointing to a number of plans her government envisages toward post-Ebola recovery. She rightly included improvement in the healthcare delivery system, as well as education, agriculture and Liberian participation in business.
But she spoke in generalities and presented no specific outline of what she intends in each of these areas.
The Address could be described as essentially lackluster (bland), primarily because she spoke in generalities, gave us no bold prescription of how she and her government intend to jumpstart the economy, and most especially the revitalization of the healthcare delivery system.
She herself and many other partners have stressed that the Ebola epidemic was allowed to wreak its deadly havoc and do it so rapidly because of the weak healthcare system in all three countries—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
This is what led the People’s Republic of China, through its Ambassador, Zhang Yue, to announce last October his government’s pledge “to work with other international partners to help [rebuild] and modernize Liberia’s health sector in the post-Ebola period. Similar pledges followed from the Americans and the European Union.
This newspaper has been pleading with the government to seize this golden opportunity and devise a comprehensive and detailed plan for the revitalization of healthcare in Liberia. But we have yet to see one. The Ministry of Health (MOH) reacted verbally to our last Monday Editorial on this subject, saying that indeed a plan had been devised. But the plan is not that impressive.
In her address, the President mentioned a ten-year program for the training of healthcare professionals, improving and expanding services at primary and secondary healthcare centers, upgrading county hospitals and establishing three regional hospitals. She further spoke of what she called “the repositioning of John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFK) to meet its envisioned role as a national referral center.”
There were, however, no specifics. Which healthcare professionals does she intend to train—are they nurses, paramedics or medical doctors—or all three? How does she intend to do that? Both the Tubman National Institute for Medical Arts (TNIMA) and most especially the A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine are crying for help. We recently reported that the College’s students’ allowances, like the salaries of faculty and staff of the university itself, are eight months in arrears. Does the President know this? What plans are in the offing to fix that, then move on to the larger question of reequipping and expanding the college?
George Fahnbulleh, a top commentator on the Observer web site, wrote that “with a 3% net population growth rate, Liberia will have an estimated population of 6.74 million in 2030 and will need . . . approximately 1,752 doctors to meet [the] average.” According to him, we need to produce 105 new doctors every year for the next 15 years? This, it seems to us, underscores the urgency of immediately addressing the needs of the Medical College.
What intervention plans has the government for the West African Post Graduate Medical College? The college needs its own campus, with well equipped buildings and a topnotch teaching staff to train medical specialists. Are there any plans for that?
Where exactly upcountry does the President intend to place the three referral hospitals? And which healthcare centers are targeted for improvement and expansion? What are JFK’s own plans for revitalization?
Recent statistics show that our maternal death rate is rising. That is a sign that infant mortality is not far behind. Yet there is only one Liberian gynecologist at the JFK—the Chief Medical Officer himself, Dr. Billy Johnson; and only one pediatrician, Dr. Sia Camonor. Numerous other specialists are lacking at the nation’s leading referral hospital. What are the JFK’s own plans for training specialists or reengaging Liberian medical specialists in the Diaspora?
Herein lay the urgent need to build the West African Post Graduate College of Medicine.
We pray that the President and her Health Ministry team, in collaboration with the partners, especially the Chinese, Americans and EU, will as soon as possible devise the plan, so that we may begin the urgent task of rebuilding our healthcare sector and turn Liberia into one truly healthy nation.