The New Emergency Operating Center: A Harbinger of Things to Come?

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The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday turned over to the Liberian Government a brand new Emergency Operating Center. The center, located in the immediate vicinity of the Ministry of Health (MOH) is intended to enhance collection of data and information about Ebola and other life-threatening diseases. It is also intended to train health workers to be adequately prepared for outbreaks and surveillance, according to CDC Country Director Desmond Williams.

In her remarks, thanking the Americans for the Center, Health Minister Bernice Dahn said the Center’s erection was in compliance with the consensus reached with partners to revitalize the health sector.

The center, she disclosed, is part of nine pillars upon which Liberians healthcare delivery system is to be built. The pillars include training of competent healthcare workers, establishment of public health facilities and information gathering and data collection.

Though the Daily Observer has over many months called on the Liberian Government to conceive a comprehensive plans for Liberian’s healthcare delivery revitalization, this Newspaper is not yet privy to the MOH’s “ Nine Pillars” on this subject.

We are, however, gratified to note that among the “pillars” listed by Dr. Dahn are two salient ones – training of healthcare workers and the establishment of healthcare facilities throughout the country.

The reason we have been pressing for the development of a comprehensive healthcare delivery plan was that we saw a golden opportunity for it. Several of the country’s leading donors, including the United States, the People’s Republic of China and the European Union, had pledged their willingness to contribute generously to our healthcare revitalization.

It is a fact that our health care delivery was already critically lacking in many areas prior to the Ebola outbreak. That is why Ebola hit us so hard, quickly making Liberia the epicenter of the crisis among the three Ebola affected countries, in terms of fatality. Within a few months over 4,000 deaths were recorded in Liberia alone. The impact of the crisis on Liberia was underscored by the fact that Liberia is the least populated among the three effected countries, the other two being Guinea, where the virus first struck, and Sierra Leone.

One of the reasons our healthcare delivery system was so poor is because since the 1980 coup d’état and most especially since the advent of the civil war, Liberia has suffered a terrible brain drain. We lost thousands of our medical doctors and other healthcare workers especially to the United States, but also to Europe and other African countries. Droves of even our nurses and paramedics-lab technicians, etc., were attracted to highly paid jobs in the USA and Europe, and still see no incentive for a permanent return.

To make matters worse, most of the healthcare institutions were looted or destroyed by bombs. These included the John F. Kennedy Medical Center (FJK), Phebe Hospital in Suakoko, Bong County and the current Memorial Hospital in Zorzor, Lofa County, which were bombed several times and had to be reconstructed. Even the clinics in remote parts of the country were looted, and many destroyed.

The exodus of so much of our healthcare assets shattered Liberia’s healthcare delivery, leaving what was formerly a regional medical destination totally exposed to any epidemic, even Ebola.

Thankfully, Health Minister Dahn has listed these two major challenges, training and the expansion of healthcare access, as priorities.

We have previously suggested editorially that all of the existing hospitals and healthcare centers throughout the country should be renovated and equipped with state of the art facilities. This is possible, we believe, since we have commitments from the USA, China, the EU and other friends and sympathetic nations. Minister Dahn and her staff should make a detailed list of these facilities.

We know of no one who is more knowledgeable of healthcare professional needs than Dr. Vuyu Golakai, Vice President for Health Sciences at the University, Dean of the A.M. Digliotti College of medicine and surgical consultant at the JFK Medical Center. He and Dr. Billy Johnson and J.F.K. Administrator Wvannie Mae McDonald, along with Minister Dahn, could put together a comprehensive list of training needs from medical doctors and medical specialists to nurses and paramedical personnel.

The Liberia Post Graduate Medical College, headed by Dr. Roseda Marshall, should not be forgotten as we prioritize training. Some of the funding from our partners for this pillar should be used to support the college’s vital contribution to the advancement of the medical practice in Liberia.

Time is of the essence and we pray that Minister Dahn and her team will get together with Dr. Golakai and make the remaining two years of the Sirleaf administration count for the health sector. We firmly believe that, through a concerted effort, they can lay a solid foundation for the next administration to build upon over the following five to seven years, to replace all our healthcare personnel lost since 1980 and even perhaps attract those eager to return and contribute.

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