Washington, D.C. - A conference, organized by several non-governmental organizations to review the current state of national and international efforts to assist in rebuilding the healthcare delivery systems, environment management, and develop emergency preparedness in countries of the Mano River Union (MRU) worst affected by the Ebola epidemic, took place recently in Silver Spring, Maryland, outside Washington, DC, USA.
The “International Conference on Post Ebola Capacity Building for the Mano River Union” brought together an array of professional experts in health science, environmental, disaster and emergency management response, education, as well as private and public sector leaders, and the MRU Diaspora Community, among others.
The goal of the impressive conference was to discuss lessons learned from the Ebola epidemic, assess the state of post-Ebola initiatives in the three worst affected countries, identify specific needs, seek and lobby for continuous international help to sustain the MRU countries.
The conference, held October 6, 2016, was organized by the U.S. State of Maryland and Liberia Sister States Committee (MLSSC), Africa Environmental Watch (AEW), International Medical Corps (IMC), and Help Africa (HA).
Diplomats from the embassies of three MRU countries – Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, also attended the conference, which convened several panels on Medicine, Environment, Education, Disaster Response, Maritime, Empowering the Disables, and uniting the African Diaspora to support sustainable development in Africa.
In welcome remarks, Ms. Sheila Durant, a lawyer who is chair of the MLSSC, underscored the commitment of her organization to continue to deepen the relationship between the U.S. State of Maryland and Liberia, including support to Liberia in education and other areas of need. She added that the purpose of the conference was to bring the MRU Diaspora and interested partners together to deliberate on how to assist in the process of establishing a better healthcare systems in Africa, especially the MRU countries such as Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which were worst affected by the Ebola epidemic.
The Sister State Program Agreement, signed between the State of Maryland, USA and Bong County and Maryland County of Liberia in 2007, is to enhance the many opportunities for cooperation in business and industry, arts and culture, education, and also to build long-term relationships, promote commercial cooperation and develop joint program of exchange in the areas indicated.
Earlier in opening remarks, environmental activist and engineer Morris T. Koffa, Executive Director of Africa Environmental Watch, who served as Conference Chair, said the conference was intended to bring together professionals of diverse background to deliberate on efforts that must be made to sustain progress in rebuilding the health systems and establish effective emergency preparedness in the MRU countries.
Delivering the keynote address, Mr. Melvin Foote, President, Constituency For Africa (CFA), a leading Africa advocacy organization in Washington, assured that the CFA will continue to strongly advocate for the establishment of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Africa so as to undertake medical research and respond promptly to health emergencies that may arise in Africa.
The noted American activist in the cause of Africa expressed the need for the African Diaspora to organize and be pro-active in advocating for solutions to Africa’s problems. He added that there is a lot that the African Diaspora in the United States can achieve on behalf of the continent by organizing around specific goals and programs and using their expertise and collective resources.
Deputizing for Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh, Hon. Gabriel I H Williams, Minister Counselor for Press and Public Affairs at the Embassy of Liberia, indicated that the Government and people of Liberia welcome the initiatives the various organizations are undertaking to strongly advocate for international support to ensure sustainable progress in the MRU.
Hon. Williams said Liberia is faced with serious medical challenges due to inadequate capacity of its healthcare system. He mentioned what is reported to by an alarming rise in hypertension (commonly known as high blood pressure in Liberia), which has caused the lives of many young and abled body Liberians, especially professionals and leaders of diverse background, who were breadwinners for their families.
Hon. Williams called on the medical experts and groups to consider the need for serious medical intervention in the areas of hypertension and mental health, which have become grave health challenges since the end of the Liberian civil upheaval.
Among the several panel groups that made presentation at the conference was a panel on Medicine under the title, Healthcare: the Path to Sustainable Growth/Saving Lives Through Medicine.
This panel included medical doctors who are originated from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The co-facilitator of the Panel on Medicine was Ms. Luana Kiandoli, a lifelong advocate in the US for the improvement of Liberia’s healthcare. She is a specialist in tropical disease and establishment of medical laboratories and has taught graduate medical education.
Mr. Charles Sharpe, a retired US Air Force Inspector General and founder and CEO of the Black Emergency Managers Association (BEMA), one of the speakers at the conference, stressed the need for a robust disaster and emergency management preparedness in the MRU and Africa by extension to help reduce the risk and impact of potential catastrophic events.
Dealing with the topic, Maritime: Clean Ocean Program and Port Security, Mr. Harry T. Conway, Alternate Representative of Liberia to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and Mr. Gerald F. B. Cooper, President, Maritime Cooper Associates, Inc., discussed programs and policies being undertaken by the Liberian Government and the international community to ensure global maritime safety and environmental protection, among others.
On Education, Dr. Barbara Simmons, who serves as Inaugural Dean of International Education and Associate Professor at the William V.S. Tubman University in Maryland County, Liberia, spoke on the importance of education and Tubman University’s role in building capacity.
Representatives of Morgan State University in Baltimore, which has a MOU in education partnership with Tubman University under the Maryland and Liberia Sister States relationship, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, also participated in the conference.