The New Dawn (Monrovia)

Liberia: Health Workers in Lofa Recommit Services

In the wake of go-slow by health workers across Liberia, those assigned in Lofa County have expressed a commitment to government's health care delivery and pledged to continue to provide services to the people of Lofa.

The Executive Mansion said the Lofa health workers told President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that while they have grievances, they also took an oath to save lives, and should not let their grievances undermine health care delivery.

Similar pledges were done at the hospitals in Foya, Vaughan and Kolahun, Voinjama and Zorzor, respectively, when the President visited them to learn about the situations in the wake of an announced go- slow by the National Health Workers Association of Liberia.

The Association is demanding, among other things, the resignation of the Minister of Health & Social Welfare, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, for allegedly being insensitive to their plight ranging from salary increment to other benefits.

At Foya's Borma Hospital, the General Administrator, Francis T. Fundia, told President Sirleaf that the services being rendered to the people there will not be hampered by the go-slow, but quickly clarified that his staff's action to continue to work was not in any way defiant to the Association, but was being driven by the oath they took to save lives.

At Vahun Hospital, where the President was taken on a guided tour of the facilities, staff informed her about constraints facing health care delivery, including the availability of drugs and workers' incentives.

The President was assured that the staffs were committed to their work despite the challenges, and they pleaded with the government to increase support to the facilities that now they have been connected by roads to the rest of Liberia. Before the rehabilitation of the all-weather road, medical supplies to the hospital used to be delivered through the Sierra Leone side of the border.

At Kolahun Hospital, the Medical Director, Dr. Josephus Bolongei, described the facilities as stable and effective, except for a standby generator request which he made. According to Dr. Bolongei, the hospital has carried out 60 successful operations, without any deaths, since August 2013 when it lost NGO support.

In the presence of the President and entourage and community residents, Dr. Bolongei admonished his staff to remain mature in seeking redress to their grievances.

At the Telewoyan Memorial Referral Hospital in Voinjama, nurses were said to be observing the go-slow when President Sirleaf arrived there. The Medical Director, Dr. Zuannah Kamara, informed the President that only he and his wife were kept open the doors of the facilities, and that they had been able to treat and discharge all patients before the nurses went on their go- slow.

At an Intercessory Service held at St. Theresa Episcopal Church to mark her safe arrival in Voinjama, President Sirleaf voiced serious disappointment over the conduct of the nurses at Telowoyan Hospital, calling their action as a betrayal of their oath to save lives come what may.

"The nurses should know that their action is not harming me, nor Dr. Gwenigale, but the very people. all of us took an oath to serve. Though they may have genuine concerns, the approach taken is wrong and should claim the attention of all of us in this church," said a disappointed President.

"We know we have many challenges, but if anyone here says we have done nothing to address these concerns, then said person must be living on the moon," she stated. President Sirleaf said her government has always been open for dialogue to resolve issues and encourage the striking nurses in Voinjama to rethink their decision.

A day after the President arrived in Voinjama, the nurses apologized to her for the manner in which they approached the situation, and promised to return to work while being open for negotiation. Head Nurse Genevieve Hilton, speaking on behalf of the aggrieved nurses, said they saw their action as disrespect to government, and pleaded for forgiveness.

The President challenged them to always seek appropriate means to redress other than risking the lives of the very people they swore to serve. She said she was aware that they belong to an Association and would want to go by what the body says, but she cautioned them to always think of the repercussions of the action to the common people whom they serve.

The Lofa County tour also took President Sirleaf to Zorzor's Curren Hospital, where she saw nurses at work. There, the government was commended for its subsidy to the hospital, which has increased from US$15,000 to more than US$200,000 over the last eight years of President Sirleaf's administration.

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