Liberia’s Endangered Free Pediatric Healthcare Facilities

Since July 16, 2009, I have visited Island Pediatric Hospital in Duala three times to attend to the needs of a special child who was sexually assaulted. This hospital located in the northern community of Monrovia provides free healthcare services to children for burns, sexual assault, treatment of regional diseases, and other major or minor medical care needs. It is one of two pediatric and obstetrics specialized hospitals within the Monrovia area that are operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). These lifesaving facilities are endangered of closing their doors to impoverished children as MSF will cease their commitment at the end of 2009. MSF had announced early 2008 that they will transfer the responsibility to the Liberia government at the end of 2009.

Is this post-war, financially strapped government ready for such a task while it continues to struggle in providing sustainable services to over two-thirds of its population living in extreme poverty? Well, the answer is doubtful on whether they can provide the same level of care or even keep the doors open for the next few years.

MSF, an international disaster emergency relief non-governmental organization, has operated in Liberia since 1990. It has been providing healthcare services during the civil war and the first stage of the post-war recovery process. MSF/Belgium (MSF-B) has supported Island hospital since late 2002, first as an annex to the public Redemption Hospital and from March 2006, as a private children’s hospital. Also in Monrovia, MSF-B supports two primary health clinics in New Kru Town and Clara Town (both in Monrovia on Bushrod Island) which provide vaccinations, family planning, ante and post natal care, 24 hour delivery rooms and medical care for survivors of sexual violence. MSF Spain/Switzerland supports the pediatric ward at Benson Hospital in Monrovia and also provides maternity care and obstetric surgery as well as treatment for survivors of sexual violence at the hospital. In Saclapea in Nimba County, MSF supports a health centre providing both outpatient and inpatient services (Speech).”

The MSF facilities provide 80% of the pediatric healthcare in Monrovia. Island and Benson Pediatric Hospitals admit nearly 1,500 children per month and with their two clinics, they administer care to over 13,000 patients per month. In 2007, for instance, Island Hospital admitted 12,655 patients, an increase rate of more than 100% to the previous year. This demands for free inpatient medical care is much greater than the supply of available beds. Since 2007, the two hospitals have increased the number of beds to a combine total of 181; however, the occupancy rate is at 125% (Speech).

The free services provided by MSF hospitals for Monrovia’s growing impoverished community have saved numerous lives and ensured the physical and mental care of traumatized victims. In fact, during 2008, MSF recorded 11,700 first visits for natal care with 8,340 pregnant women test for HIV and 326 tested positive; 3,909 babies were delivered with no maternal death[1]; 9,100 first visits for family planning; 22,000 children were immunized for Pentavalent[2] vaccination; and 770 sexual assault victims received medical care and trauma counseling (Liberia). These statistics only give a small glimpse of the need for free healthcare services to children and pregnant women who are unable to afford medical care by government-owned or private-owned hospitals.

From my three visits to Island Pediatric Hospital I have witnessed attentive and quality care for children of all ages. The one concern that did not appear in the statistics above is the number of children who have been severely burned. As I have waited in the hallways of this hospital I have been overwhelmed by the number of small children who have first degree burns covering most of their bodies. During my last visit on August 7, one preschool-age boy, whose face was badly burned and his two small hands were wrapped in badges most likely missing fingers, came over to me to say “Hi.” As I held back my tears looking at this sweet boy’s face, I extended my greeting to him, and he smiled as he walked away. There is more to be shared about these special children about the cause for their burns, but that will be in later post.

It was during my last visit in August that I asked some of the staff at Island Hospital if the government was ready to take over the responsibility for their hospital. Their response was no. Their only hope right now is that government negotiates an extension to MSF’s commitment. So, if the government is unable to provide the same level of financial support as MSF, these remaining hospitals are in danger of having their doors forever closed putting more children lives at risk.

Liberia is a nation that is slowly recovering from a destructive 14-year of war, and one of the main casualties was its medical care facilities. So by losing these two pediatric hospitals that have provided free quality medical care to children living in extreme poverty would be a major catastrophe. From my own personal experience at Island Hospital, I would hate to see this place shut down because of inadequate support. Unfortunately, the fate of these endangered facilities is unknown. Therefore, I have written this post to alert those who are concerned with Liberia and the future well-being of its children in hopes that these two hospitals can be removed from the endangered list.

Notes:

[1] According to the Liberia Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2007 it showed that there has been an increase to the already unacceptably high maternal mortality rate during period of 1987 to 2007. The rate in 1987 was 578 per 100,000 live births compared to 774 in 2000 and 994 in 2007. The rate in 2000 is estimated to be higher based on the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare’s inpatient mortality statistics showing 1,370 per 100,000 births (Liberia’s Progress Towards the Millennium Development Goals 2008).

[2] Pentavalent is a multi-dose vaccine consisting of the following 5 vaccines: Diphtheria, Tetanus Toxoid, Pertussis, Hepatitis B, and Haemophilus Influenza (Hib).

Works Cited:

Liberia: UNMIL Humanitarian Situation Report No. 163. United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). 11 Apr 2009. 17 Jul 2009. http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/pslg-7r4j2p?opendocument

Liberia’s Progress Towards the Millennium Development Goals 2008. United Nations Development Fund and Republic of Liberia. 2008. 09 Jun 2009. www.lr.undp.org/documents/…/liberia-mdg-report-2008-small.pdf

Speech for President Ellen Johnson Serleaf’s visit. The Analyst. 22 Mar 2008. 17 Jul 2009. http://www.analystliberia.com/msf_speech_for_ellen_visit_mar24_08.html

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