Will the President Nominate an in-House Critic as Health Minister?

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The Daily Observer yesterday named three outstanding medical doctors being considered as the new Health Minister.  The first is the outspoken Dr. Vuyu Golakai, an eminent African surgeon who has served in several countries, including Zimbabwe; Botswana; South Africa; Israel and Germany, the two countries where he was trained.

Everyone knows that Vuyu is a brain trust—a very clever fellow who probably knew the lessons before he entered the class—any class, from calculus to chemistry, to physics to English, history and literature.  He is also an eloquent speaker, who also gave an extraordinary extemporaneous panegyric at Bai T. Moore’s funeral in 1988.

But despite all these highly credible credentials, will the President risk choosing an in-house critic to run the Health Ministry?  That would be challenging for a leader whom many have accused of surrounding herself with people who are prone to say “yes ma’am,” rather than stand up to her with different opinions; and who is also noted for surrounding herself with friends and family in governance.  Selecting Dr. Golakai would be a serious challenge, but it would convince many that Ellen is willing to take any risk for positive and constructive change.

There are other serious candidates, including Dr. Robert Kpoto, the nation’s only orthopedic surgeon on the ground.  Were he to be favored, that would rob the nation of the only one in his field.  What would happen to people with chronic bone problems and accident victims?

Dr. Kpoto has been active in the West African College of Surgeons and its graduate program, which is designed to train and supply the nation with medical specialists who are seriously lacking here.

Dr. Francis Kateh, the youngest of the three, is a physician, academician and Deputy of the  National Incident Management System (NIMS).  NIMS is responsible for Liberia’s Ebola response. 

Following the New Orleans Hurricane Katrina incident, Dr. Kateh decided to pursue professional studies in Homeland Security, with emphasis on Public Health Disaster Preparedness (2008).  In the case of another medical epidemic, will Dr. Kateh, if appointed Health Minister, be able to avoid the tragic mistake of the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO)?  Margaret Chang was Health Minister in Hong Kong years ago when an epidemic struck and she responded swiftly to bring it under control.  But as WHO head, she wasted precious time and delayed for several months WHO’s response to the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, leading to the unnecessary death of nearly 9,000 people.

Should such an epidemic occur under his watch as a future Health Minister, Dr. Kateh would at least have had the training, if not the experience, in public health disaster preparedness.  He is also noted for efficiently managing the Jackson F. Doe Hospital in Tappita, Nimba County.

Speaking of handling epidemics like Ebola, we cannot fail to mention some of the doctors who shined in Liberia’s battle with the epidemic.  Among them is, Dr. Jerry Browne, MD, who successfully manned the ELWA Ebola Treatment Unit that cured many and brought the unit to zero Ebola cases.

Another is Dr. Gorbee Logan, who performed a commendable job at the Government Hospital in Tubmanburg, Bomi County.   He also led the hospital to attain zero Ebola cases.

This a good list of medical professionals to choose from.  But like President Tolbert in the 1970s, who appointed three non-medical persons to the Health Ministry—Mai Padmore, former Special Assistant to President Tubman, and Counselors Estrada Bernard and Oliver Bright—Madam Sirleaf may go outside the medical field to find a new Health Minister. 

But given Liberia’s most important post-Ebola challenge, the redevelopment of the entire healthcare delivery system, the President needs an experienced and seasoned medical practitioner – one with decades of medical and surgical experience behind him, who knows what the problems are and how to solve them.

He must be someone who also has a keen interest in training—nursing, paramedical, medical and specialist—so that the nation is soon equipped not only with adequate health and medical institutions, but professionals to run them effectively and efficiently.

When it comes to professional rapport with the President and the flexibility to speak one’s mind on critical issues, who can beat Dr. Walter Gwenigale, who knows how to call a spade a spade, even before the Liberian Senate?   

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