The Inquirer (Monrovia)

14 April 2014

West Africa: Liberia to Establish Heath Equity Fund

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says if Liberia is to achieve Universal Health Coverage, it must begin to build a sustainable health financing system through domestic financing for the health sector.She admitted that it will be a daunting task considering the multiple needs of a country undergoing reconstruction; however, it must be done.

President Sirleaf disclosed that consideration is now being given for the establishment of a Liberia Health Equity Fund - a new funding mechanism that will help to pay for health care for all Liberians on an equitable basis, with everyone having access to the same services regardless of where you are, who you are or your financial standing.

According to an Executive Mansion release, the Liberian leader was speaking when she addressed the opening of the 15th Ordinary Meeting of the Assembly of ECOWAS Health Ministers at the Monrovia City Hall on Friday, April 11. The meeting is being held under the theme: "Universal Health Coverage: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities."

President Sirleaf said government is working to improve the health and social welfare status of all Liberians on an equitable basis in the face of major challenges. She named inadequate financing for drugs, facility construction, health workers incentives; poor-quality service delivery; financial constraints of the population themselves, especially the poor; unbalanced service provision across counties sometimes in the light of transport difficulties; and declining contributions from international partners as some of the major challenges facing the health sector.

"Achieving Universal Health Coverage takes time and perseverance for it involves accessibility, affordability and quality of service," the Liberian President emphasized, adding that government is endeavoring to realize this through strong political commitment at all levels including the highest level in the society.

She reminded the audience of the commitment she made when she addressed the 63rd World Health Assembly in Geneva that people should not have to die simply because they are poor; and pledged to find mechanisms to continue to allow Liberians to access the health care they need without having to pay up-front fees.

The Liberian leader commended the health team for the services they are rendering free of charge in all of the rural areas, though sometimes not the quality, but certainly expanding in a way that they know that if patients do have some urgent health problem they can go to a health service center and get immediate and urgent care until they can be transferred to facilities that require much more attention."We realize that free health care is not free; someone has to pay for

it," she pointed out; adding that it has to be paid through other forms of taxes and through the mobilization of resources. She applauded partners for the support.

In a message read on his behalf by the WHO Country Representative, Dr. Nestor Ndayimirje, the World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Luis Gomes Sambo said despite the progress made in the last 15 to 20 years, populations in the African region still suffer from the devastating burden of several diseases such as malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, meningitis, cholera and other diarrheal diseases, viral hemorrhagic fevers, among others which are obstacles to achieving Universal Coverage and the Millennium Development Goals.

He said the meeting of WAHO came at a time when the sub-region is experiencing a serious epidemic disease, Ebola and commended the Governments of Liberia and Guinea for the strong leadership demonstrated by officially declaring and mounting an effective response to the cross-border Ebola virus disease epidemic. "With this strong leadership and commitment, I am very confident that together, we shall be able to stop this epidemic and therefore avoid the loss of human lives and minimize its impact on the economy, trade and travel in accordance with the International Health Regulation," he said.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa urged Member States of the African Region to make significant investments in epidemic preparedness and response because it will reduce avoidable morbidity and mortality especially implementing the IDSR strategy. "The experience over the years has shown that response to epidemics is unnecessarily delayed when adequate preparedness measures have not been put in place," he said, adding that adequate epidemic preparedness facilitates rapid mobilization of response and effective containment of the epidemic.

Dr. Sambo also disclosed that the African Public Health Emergency Fund (APHEF), established in 2010 is now fully operational; noting that it has already enabled WHO provide support to Mali, Central Africa Republic, Burundi and more recently to Guinea in response to the ongoing epidemic. He noted that the process of extending the APHEF support to Liberia for the Ebola response is underway

He urged African countries to seriously embrace the "One Health Approach" considering the fact that over 70 percent of the emerging and reemerging diseases originate from animals which is true for Ebola, Marburg and Lassa Fever.

He said the beautiful flora and fauna in Africa unfortunately serves as potential reservoirs to several dangerous pathogens and there was a need to work with forestry, agriculture, the extractive industry and other relevant sectors and partners. "I would like to reiterate the imperative necessity of a strong partnership, inter-sectoral collaboration and increased cross-border cooperation between countries to prevent and control epidemics.

He reaffirmed WHO's commitment to provide appropriate technical guidance to countries in controlling the Ebola epidemic and other health threats arising from epidemic diseases as well as other public health emergencies.

The Chairperson of the Assembly of Health Ministers of ECOWAS, Ivorian Health Minister, Dr. Raymonde Coffie; the Director-General of the West African Health Organization (WAHO) Dr. Xavier Crespin; and on behalf of the President of ECOWAS, Dr. Fatimata Dia Sow made remarks at the program.

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