The new Health Minister comes into office facing more serious, even colossal challenges than any of his predecessors.Not even Dr. Joseph N. Togba, who first took over this awesome portfolio right out of medical school in 1945, faced so stupendous a set of challenges as today’s incoming Health Minister, whoever that may be.True, when Dr. Togba returned home he faced all the childhood and other diseases. Among these were chickenpox, diarrhea, whooping cough, measles, mumps, sleeping sickness, smallpox, tuberculosis, worms, yaws and yellow fever.Yet every one of those diseases was unlike the deadly Ebola virus. None of them had people dying in the thousands. None of them was so vicious as to shatter our lives, our way of life, our economy, our cultural and social traditions and our good neighborliness. Ebola has separated us from our next door neighbors of Guinea, Sierra Leone and La Cote d’Ivoire, to the extent that we can no longer trade with one another. When the Ivorians had their political crisis a few years ago, they streamed across the border into Liberia in the hundreds of thousands and were wholeheartedly welcomed by their Liberian brothers and sisters. For after all, the same languages, Gio, Mano, Grebo and Krahn are spoken across the borders. There are relatives on both sides of the border, divided by France when it seized huge portions of Liberian territory that became parts of Guinea and La Cote d’Ivoire.Yet in this Ebola season, the Ivorians effectively closed their air, land and sea borders with Liberia and the two other grievously affected countries, Guinea and Sierra Leone. But the Ebola virus went further to devastate our international relations. So many other countries stigmatized our three countries, causing our citizens great embarrassment and humiliation.No, even though Dr. Togba faced the task of building from scratch the National Public Health Service (NPHS) that later became the MOH, it was far from what the incoming Minister of Health faces today.For starts, even though we face an awesome health and medical crisis, our Minister-designate, Mr. George T. Werner, has spent not a day in medical school. But that need not be to his disadvantage. Several others served though they were not doctors. The first was Madam Mai Padmore, for many years President Tubman’s Special Assistant, whom President W.R. Tolbert appointed his first Health Minister. She was succeeded by Counselor Oliver Bright, and after him another lawyer, Cllr. Estrada Bernard. Then came Dr. Abeodu Jones, a historian, and after her Dr. Kate Bryant, MD, a pediatrician. Given this historical background, the Senate should not be too quick to reject Mr. Warner as the new Health Minister. What he will need is all the help he can get from those who know about the business—medical practitioners and related persons who can help him put together a program to finish the fight against the Ebola virus.This hopefully last stage in the anti-Ebola crusade is critical; for the new Minister will have to work closely with the Chief Medical Officer the Incident Management System that handles the Ebola crisis, the World Health Organization and all the partners, including the Americans, Chinese, Europeans, Africans, Asians, etc. He will need all the help he can get in taking the fight to the finish, which he does not have much time to achieve, since President Sirleaf and the Liberian people are hoping that Liberia can be Ebola free before Christmas.The new Minister’s next challenge is to develop a Master Plan for the rebuilding of Liberia’s entire Healthcare Delivery System. This must ensure that modern hospitals are built in places where they do not yet exist, including Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Grand Kru, River Cess and Sinoe Counties. And where they do exist, the hospitals must be seriously revamped and modern equipment installed, including specialized equipment for radiology, dialyses, heart, dental surgery and ophthalmology procedures, to list a few.The Master Plan should also include healthcare centers throughout the country, especially in remote villages, making lack of access to healthcare a thing of the past.The new Minister will have to work closely with the Dean and Faculty of the A.M. Dioglotti College of Medicine, the West African Post Graduate College of Physicians and Surgeons and all the other partners to develop a comprehensive plan to train medical doctors, nurses and paramedics to man the new health system. Well-conceived and sustainable terms of service and remuneration structures are necessary components of medical personnel development planning so that the focus will remain where it is critically needed – on saving and enhancing lives, instead of constant fights over pay, benefits and the horrendous conditions in most medical facilities around the country.Not to be ignored is the need for a healthcare delivery system to be trusted and embraced by the people. That trust must be earned by good customer service delivered by doctors, nurses and other medical staff from janitors to CMO who are inculcated (instilled) with the culture of empathy and unconditional, non-judgmental acceptance of those needing and seeking their care. There is rampant egregious (extremely bad) treatment of patients by many hospital staff and this must be thoroughly and uncompromisingly reversed.Furthermore, the people’s trust must be earned by a healthcare delivery system that makes informed decisions and acts expeditiously in the people’s interest. That kind of system ensures that those hired are indeed qualified to serve in their posts, that medications on the local market are rigorously inspected for safety and authenticity. That kind of system is also seen to be enforcing without prejudice all the rules, laws and regulations to prevent medical crises and move quickly to control crises as it is now doing to prevent further spread of the Ebola virus.To win the people’s confidence and trust, the well-conceived healthcare delivery system will allocate funding to teach, monitor and engage the communities it serves across the country. Messages targeting prevention such as pre and post natal care, good hygiene, healthy eating, fitness, vaccination, environmental cleanliness must be seriously and relentlessly promoted by every effective means possible until disease and death rates in the country are far lower than they are today.It is a tall order and we wish the new Minister well. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
– assure PAC expired drugs not being distributedThe Region Seven Administration was, during Monday’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting, put under the microscope over the fact that with millions spent on drugs, the region could not provide satisfactory answers pertaining to their purchases.Regional Executive Officer Rodrick Edinboro and Regional Health Officer Dr Edward Segala, appearing before the PAC, were questioned on several red flags that were raised in the Auditor General’s 2016 Report.Region Seven officials appearing before the PAC on MondayAccording to the report, “the sum of $64.496 million was budgeted for the procurement of drugs and medical supplies under the Health Services Programme for 2016. According to the Appropriation Account, the sum of $50 million was expended as at 31 December 2016.“This amount was transferred by way of inter-departmental warrant (IDW) 2504/2016 on 25th May 2016, to the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) (to) procure drugs and medical supplies for the region. According to the financial return sent from the MoPH, the sum of $46.899 million was expended, and unspent balance, $3.101 million, was credited to the Appropriation Account.”“The report noted that despite drugs and medical supplies being received by the Regional Administration, the cost was not stated on the documentation that accompanied the deliveries. As a result, the Audit Office could not determine whether the full value was received for the sum warranted to the MoPH.”That was in 2016. When the regional officials were asked whether they had received value for the monies spent on drugs, a value still could not be provided.PAC member Juan Edghill berated the regional officials for their inability to account for monies spent on these drugs. There were instances when drugs were procured directly.Questioned, the REO noted that drugs were procured an on emergency basis, but when the Regional Health Officer explained that there are shortages of emergency drugs, Opposition Parliamentarian Nigel Dharamlall questioned the chronic disease medication shortage when billions are spent on drug procurement each year.Segala explained that because of Region Seven’s geographic location, it is difficult. Says they service more than Region Seven.Expired drugsThe report also noted that audit checks had revealed there were, in the regional administration’s possession, 23 types of expired drugs which are still to be destroyed. But since there was no value stated on the documents for the items, a total cost of all drugs destroyed could not be ascertained.Edghill raised concerns over whether expired drugs were being distributed to hinterland residents. According to Segala, however, the expired drugs were not being distributed. Segala also noted that the drugs have been destroyed, but all is still not well with the system.“The system is a challenging one. For example, at the level of a hospital, where you have a pharmacist…it is much easier to notice and to tell whether a particular medication is going to expire within a certain timeframe,” he explained.“The challenge, though, would come from the far-flung areas; in our case Upper Mazaruni and Middle Mazaruni, where there is no pharmacist…so supervision can be quite challenging,” he noted.