The following entry was written by Charles Redding, CEO & President of MedShare.
Never before has the need for organizations like MedShare and MAP been so evident than what I witnessed today. I am currently in Liberia along with Steve Stirling, President & CEO of MAP International, and others to interact with Government Officials, the Business Community, the Private Sector and University Presidents to discuss ways we can collaborate to strengthen healthcare and social protection in Liberia with a focus on the role of NGOs and Universities. Our host for this incredible trip is H.E. Joseph N. Boakai, Sr., Vice President of the Republic of Liberia. Liberia is a focus country for MedShare, so this trip is especially important and strategic for me.
Before I say more about what I experienced today it is best to start with some important events in Liberia’s recent history. Liberia’s population is approximately 3 million with its capital located in Monrovia where about 20% of the population resides. In 1989 civil war erupted, ending seven years later with the Abuja Peace Accords. In 1999 the government of Charles Taylor was accused of supporting rebels in Sierra Leone, and it fought a border war with Guinea in 2000. Taylor was forced into exile in 2003, and the new government, under the leadership of Africa’s first elected female president in 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, vowed to rebuild the nation. The rebuilding process was well underway until the Ebola Crisis peaked in 2014. Liberia’s health system was ill-equipped to handle such a devastating outbreak and countless lives were lost. In June 2016, the WHO declared the end of Ebola virus transmission in the Republic of Guinea and in Liberia.
Now back to what I witnessed today that confirmed the need for critical medical supplies, equipment, medicines and training to rebuild capacity in order to address a number of recurring health issues. After a brief stay in Monrovia where we received an auspicious welcome and a brief day of rest after a long journey, both Steve and I along with his wife, Sook Hee, and members of the MAP local office departed Monrovia for Nimbo and Bong Counties bordering Guinea. It took us about 3.5 hours to reach our first destination, which was the Ganta Rehabilitation Center where patients were recovering from Leprosy, Buruli Ulcers and Tuberculosis. All highly infectious diseases, but easily treatable with the proper supplies, medicines and treatment. One-by-one these patients recovering from these debilitating diseases greeted us with smiles, curiosity and songs of hope as we watched healthcare workers struggle to treat them with very limited supplies and openly pleaded with us to send more supplies and medicines. They thanked both MedShare and MAP for the supplies and medicines we had donated to the center, but were very passionate about their need for more. They also cited the lack of training and often depended on visiting doctors to train them. The Nuns that were attending to the patients had been sent there from Tanzania. The center housed about 150 patients and many waited in line to receive their daily changes of bandages and dressings that were in limited supply. It was extremely difficult for me to view these cases, for they were like nothing I had ever witnessed before. I quickly turned my thoughts to what can be done to improve this situation and countless others like this that exist. We have the supplies and MAP can get the medicines. We just need to get it in the hands of those who can make a difference!
Our next stop was to Phebe Hospital where we met with Dr. G. Gorbee Logan, the Bong County Health Officer. MedShare last sent a container to this hospital in 2004 and they received some of the supplies from our Ebola shipments. Dr. Logan’s plea was not for the hospital, but for a former leprosy colony that had been ostracized from society. The residents had been cured of the disease but not accepted back into society. They continued to live in the colony isolated from others with little to no help in dealing with health, education and recovering back to the person they were before the disease. One could not help but be moved by the passionate plea of the doctor. We quickly departed Phebe Hospital and headed for the colony to meet the people of this community and share words of hope. What we saw cannot be fully explained in words. On the surface, the community seemed like any other community – kids playing, mothers cooking and washing clothes, men collecting wood, etc. Except that many were not able to get around or move at all due to complications from the disease. Generations of children had been born in this former leprosy colony, because their parents and grandparents were not accepted. All too often we think that treatment stops once the disease is cured, and do not consider what is needed for patients to fully recover. Although neither Steve nor I had anything to send beyond, perhaps, some mobility units, we both committed to share this with other NGOs that had social welfare programs needed for this community. Simple skills training, farming, water and other social welfare programs would help immensely. With all of this suffering and isolation, the kids crowded us to share smiles and pose for pictures. They did not seem to have a care in the world. This gave me hope…
Our trip was completed and we started our 3.5 hour journey back to Monrovia. I was left with many thoughts as to why things were this way and what could we do to really make a difference. My heart is heavy but I am encouraged that we can indeed help to change the circumstances for many of the people we encountered today. They deserve better! The songs we heard while patients waited for their bandages to be changed and the smiles from children oblivious to their circumstances energized me to do more and confirmed that Liberia will truly recover one day. It will take government, private and public sectors working together for the good of the global community. I can hardly wait for our meeting with the Minister of Health later this week.