Liberia: President Weah Calls for Collective Effort in Confronting Challenges in Health Sector

MONROVIA – President George M. Weah has called for a collaborative effort in addressing the daunting challenges grappling the health sector.

By: Gerald C. Koinyeneh – gerald.koinyeneh@frontpageafricaonline.com

In a special statement delivered virtually at the opening session of the 3rd International Community Health Worker Symposium, President Weah said his administration has made tremendous progress over the years in disease prevention and minimizing mortality, but acknowledge that more needs to be done.

“There still remain a lot of challenges that require collective action to overcome,” the President said. “It is, therefore, my expectation that this 3rd International Community Health Worker symposium will ponder over how all stakeholders can work together in achieving success.”

The symposium, taking place at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Ministerial Complex in Congo Town, is being hosted by the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Health and its partners. It comes at a time Liberia like most countries of the world is recovering from the damaging impact of COVID-19.

In his address, President Weah acknowledged the many shocks the Liberian health sector has experienced over the years and said despite these setbacks, the sector has remained resilient and urged health workers to ensure that the country continues such momentum. He recalled how he has seen firsthand the challenges that families are faced with, particularly in rural areas, in accessing basic health needs.

He noted that in the last few years, his administration has managed to increase health coverage through the training and recruitment of health workers, as well as ensuring the accessibility of healthcare services, he said.

This year’s symposium is being held under the theme, “Advancing Community Health Worker Programs to build resilient and equitable health systems that accelerate Primary Health Care for Universal Health Coverage.”

Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, delivering the keynote address, called for sustained support to community health workers to be fully prepared in the discharge of their duties.

“Support to community health workers is not a fiscal choice, but a moral one. It is not only a health issue but a human rights issue. All of us is connected to the health of every one of us,” Madam Sirleaf said. “Therefore, ensuring that our brothers and sisters receive the high-quality care is in the best interest of us all. Investing in community workers makes the population healthy and make the community resilient and sufficient,” she added.

During ex-president Sirleaf’s administration, the world’s largest and most deadly Ebola outbreak struck Liberia and its neighbors Guinea and Sierra Leone, killing close to 5000 people alone in Liberia.

Recounting the horrors of EBOLA, Madam Sirleaf said: “Over 10 percent of health workers died, flights were canceled, deaths and uncertainties saturated the national mood. It became clear that any solution was a multisectoral approach- involving government, private sector and community.”

She noted that in order to combat Ebola, the government and its partners centered their strategies on empowering community health workers. She hailed the current administration for dwelling on the legacy and lessons learned from Ebola, adding that since the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been no decline in the provision of health services. However, she warned that there was no room for complacency.

“Government made the decision to institutionalize the first response. There was no decline in the provision of health services. But we should not fall into complacency… A long journey remains ahead of us.”

Also speaking, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor called for more support to community health workers to be fully prepared to protect the vulnerable, and improve healthcare and educational outcomes. When this is done, she said it will open up possibilities of achieving universal health coverage.

At the same time, Liberia’s Heath Minister, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah reaffirmed Liberia’s commitment and determination to make this third edition of the International Community Health Workers Symposium a success.

The event was co-sponsored by Liberia’s partners in the health center UNICEF, USAID, The Global Fund, Last Mile Health, Global Financing Facility, Partners In Health, World Bank Group, International Rescue Committee, Plan International, World Health Organization (WHO), the German Corporation and GIZ.

Other include Bold Thinkers Driving Real-World Impact, Health Systems Strengthening Accelerator, African Union, John Snow, Inc., UNFPA, jhpiego, UNAIDS, Results for Development, Health Systems Global, Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and Community Health Roadmap.