24 Jun 10 28 Nov 16

Liberia: We Couldn't Just Sit By

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"It was so pathetic that even the staff cried. We cried for those people when we saw them coming down from the truck."

Today, after 20 years of emergency medical aid in Liberia, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) officially stops running its final hospitals and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare takes responsibility for these services.

“Liberia was devastated by 14 years of brutal civil war, with its health system in ruins by its end,” said Dr. Dhammika Perera, MSF Head of Mission for Liberia. “Recovery is always slow, but today the Ministry of Health takes over MSF’s last hospital services. We remain in the country, but after two decades, it is an important milestone for us and symbolic of how far Liberia has come in providing healthcare to its people again.”

Following the 2003 end of the war and 2005 elections, MSF began to progressively hand over its emergency projects and hospitals in many of Liberia’s 15 counties. At the start of this year, MSF was still running two free hospitals in the capital, Monrovia - Benson Hospital in Paynesville and Island Hospital in Bushrod Island - treating more than 20,000 women and children in total per year.

“As an emergency organisation, MSF provides medical aid to people in extreme crisis,” continued Dr. Perera. “As Liberia moves steadily towards stability, our role greatly diminishes and the government’s further increases. However, major challenges remain to ensure that the most vulnerable, women and children, continue to receive much needed free care. There are no cheap solutions - as Liberia reconstructs the international community must step up and provide increased support.”

To minimise the gaps that could be created by the closure of its final two hospitals MSF built a new hospital, transferred its services there and donated it to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. MSF also added 80 paediatric beds and increased the paediatric services available in Monrovia’s main public hospital, Redemption Hospital.

Longer term support rather than emergency aid is now needed. There are currently less than 100 doctors in a country of 3.6 million, and just over 250 children’s hospital beds in Monrovia, a city of more than 1 million people. In addition to increasing the paediatric care available, Liberia also needs greater free emergency obstetric and gynaecological capacity and better access to free women’s health hospital services.

“We came a long way since the war, but there is a great deal of work ahead,” says Dr. Gwenigale, Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. “We face difficult obstacles to making our promise of free care a reality for people who cannot even afford their daily bread. To overcome these we will need continued commitment from international donors to increase the numbers of hospitals beds, guarantee staff salaries, ensure drug supply in hospitals and train new medical staff.”

From July 2010, MSF will work in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoH&SW) to provide much needed free medical and psychological care to survivors of sexual violence in up to three MoH&SW health structures.

MSF has provided medical humanitarian aid in Liberia since 1990. This handover of its last hospital services is the most significant reduction of MSF activities in its two decade presence in Liberia.

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