Monrovia - A self-funded not-for-profit organization based in the United States comprising Liberian and non-Liberian professionals has conducted eye surgery on 50 Liberians and examined over 5,000 more people in the country.
The team, dubbed Liberia Medical Mission, comprises psychologists, surgeons, ophthalmologists and bio engineers.
Joseph Sackor, the team head, said they ended the free medical services in on Friday, March 6 and on Saturday, donated US$90,000 medical equipment to the John F. Kennedy Medical Center.
“We brought that so that our brothers and sisters who do not have means of traveling to Ghana and when they have these kind of conditions (in Liberia), so that they can have the test done right here,” Mr. Sackor told FrontPageAfrica.
The team’s work also focused on general medicine – focusing on mobile clinics and established medical facilities providing free eye surgery and general medicine.
They brought in 3,500 reading glasses and examined almost 5,000 patients within the two weeks operations in the country.
“Individuals that were lucky to have surgery were those that really needed it; some have not received treatment for the past 12 years,” Mr. Sackor said.
“We restored the sight of a lady that made all of us cried. She had been blind for 12 consecutive years and all her three grand children were born up to the time we restored her sight, she didn’t know them"
"When they took the plastic from her eyes, out of sheer joy, she collapsed when she saw her daughter and three grand children.
The mission also conducted 50 other eye surgeries at the Redemption Hospital for a week and examined over 300 patients daily during the course of the two weeks.
Mr. Sackor, a non-medical practitioner with vast experience in administration, said the foreign doctors, mainly Americans, signed up to the initiative based on the team’s commitment to serve humanity by helping the people of Liberia.
“These are doctors who are highly sort after because of their expertise and they signed up because they have seen someone that is result oriented and they have all seen results and we have presented the needs of Liberians to them,” he said.
The team set up mobile clinics in West Point, Gardnerville, Brewerville, while also covering parts of Grand Bassa, Margibi, and Bong Counties.
The group visits Liberia twice a year to perform free surgery and medical services and has done this since 2011. But says the first trip to Liberia is extraordinarily important.
“The good thing about this mission is that we saw the enormity of needs in the country,” says Sackor.
“This has been one of the most successful missions that we are undertaking in terms of high level contact, partnerships and interactions with private citizenry.”
Several firms and individuals including APM Terminals, Aminata and Sons, World Health Organization, and the new administration of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, amongst others are supporting the mission’s work.
He also hailed the support of several others including the President and the First Lady, the Vice President Office and Mr. and Mrs. Benoni Urey for supporting this year’s initiative.
As part of its initiative, the Liberia Medical Mission has trained over 20 medical doctors at the JFK in new medical techniques - Vacuum Assisted Closure (VAC), which is pretty useful in the conduct of surgery.
“Another thing we did this year is distributing laptops to the TNIMA (Tubman National Institute of Medical Arts) with the goal of providing online classes to these nurses. And every month we will select one of the volunteers to provide two or three hours lecture to them,” he said.
“It is our hope that we start the training of over 100 nurses at JFK and about 100 in the Phebe area by providing online training. We will match them with their relevant field of interest.”
“We try to be innovative because this is a pro-poor government and they don’t have money so we have to be creative and innovative and see how we can help improve the health sector,” Sackor said.
The team is hopeful of returning to the country later this year but is only hopeful based on the interests generated by the President, Vice President, First Lady and other Liberians.
“We will keep it at the bi-annual level but with all the partnership things may change and once we get back, some of our foreign doctors enjoyed serving the Liberian people and love Liberia and some have started planning for next year to return to the country.”
Liberia’s health sector is in dire need of robust transformation based on several reports outlining its weaknesses.
The impact and aftermath of the Ebola virus crisis renewed calls by experts for a more resilient health plan for the country.
And Sackor says some of the problems impeding the sector include the lack of sustainability, commitment and support for the health care workers.
“The biggest thing that I have noticed is retention of health care workers,” he says, adding that many health workers, who are seeking better incentives, exit public health care service to work for non-governmental organizations that offer better retention.
“When this happens it means human resources are lost from the health care delivery sector."
"And I think what we need to start doing is encourage these non-profit organizations to leave those important people in their place of work and integrate their services into the over all problem.
“Because for instance if you have a health care center here and you have a veteran nurse or a PA who is paid US$300 then that same resource is needed by a non-profit organization for a US$1,000, the person will leave from that critically need area and move to the NGO because he or she is seeking greener pasture.”
Training of local health practitioners should be a priority, he said, while calling on the government to focus on human resource capacity of health workers in the country to ensure “they are self-reliant in preforming their task.”