Liberia: Lack of Drugs Affecting Operation of Health Facilities around the Country


Monrovia – The widespread medicinal drug shortage is something that has grasped the nation’s health sector.

Report by Bettie K. Johnson-Mbayo, bettie[email protected]

A few weeks ago, this newspaper reported how medical facilities mainly in Bong and Montserrado Counties have gone short on very important drugs.

However, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah’s Ministry of Health on Thursday, February 7, announced that it acknowledges that there exist challenges facing some of its health institutions but the situations are not as grave to warrant closure as being portrayed by the media.

The Ministry’s statement circulated by the Ministry’s Communications Consultant, Mr. Sorbor George, indicated that delay in getting drugs and other medical supplies to its facilities was due to the relocation of drugs and other office supplies to the Central Medicine Store (CMS) now located in Caldwell.

“The CMS had to do a proper packaging of those supplies, put in place transportation man-power before distributing drugs and other supplies to its facilities.” According to them, they have, however, completed the relocation process and are on course with the distribution.

After nearly two weeks, taking the Ministry’s statement as is, it seems none of those ‘essential drugs’ has reached to some of those very important health facilities. 

At the Jackson F. Doe Memorial Regional Referral Hospital in Tappita, Nimba County, FrontPageAfrica was told that a common but very important drug — Artesunate Combination Therapy (ACT) — which is used in the fight against Malaria, has gone out of stock.

According to cogent sources at this hospital, they informed FPA that the facility was last given medical supplies in October 2018 and this is corroborated by the Ministry of Health’s website, too.  

Malaria is one of those common illnesses that are so prevalent in all parts of Liberia as such one would think that medical supplies that remedy such illnesses should always be available in all health facilities.

One official at JFD Hospital stated that the situation is getting worse by the day and patients are getting discouraged seeking medical care at the facility.

When the Chinese-constructed US$10 million, 100-bedroom hospital was completed, patients came from as far as La Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea to seek medical treatment. 

A clinic in Larkayta, Margibi County, is another health facility that is experiencing a shortage of nearly every essential drug. This is a government-run community clinic that caters for a significant catchment of the county’s yea Liberia’s population.

Lakayta like JFD Hospital and most medical facilities, are experiencing shortage of IV bags and saline solution. 

Patience Dixon (not her real name), a nurse at this clinic told FPA: “The health system nationwide is experiencing shortage of nearly all the other essential medicines you can put into those IV bags, from antibiotics to painkillers.”

Larkayta, too, does not have ACT.

“Our main concerns are the pain and malaria medications,” Nurse Dixon said.

No matter the case and since there clinic lacks drugs, patients going to Larkayta are referred to C.H. Rennie, which is the biggest public hospital in the county. It, too, is struggling with the present situation in the health sector. 

Nurse Dixon disclosed that since the beginning of 2019, the clinic has not received a full supply, including toiletry (soap, tissue, etc), which patients are advised to bring along when they are coming to the clinic.

“We also tell them to bring gloves and beddings, because we don’t have them, too,” Madam Dixon said.

The building hosting this clinic is also deplorable. 

Without any assurances, Ms. Dixon hopes that the Ministry of Health will supply the clinic before the month ends or very early March 2019.

According to her, the only medication they have in stock are something to treat pregnant women and few capsules of paracetamol.

She added: “When we don’t send patients to C. H. Rennie, we just write the prescription and give it to them to go and buy their medicines outside.”

On the day of the unannounced visit, it was noticed that the clinic only had two beds without beddings in the labor room.

“When we have drugs, we take 50 to 70 patients. Since no drugs, we see at least 15 to 20 because they people know when they come, we will give them a prescription or send them to C. H. Rennie; so they prefer going directly to the drug store,” said Dixon.

Also in Western Liberia at Sebehun Community Clinic in Grand Cape Mount County, the lack of essential drugs is visible. 

One of the supervisors at the clinic told FrontPageAfrica that they have been closing early because they don’t have adequate supply of drugs.

Hawa Sombai (not her real name) said many times prescriptions are done for patients to purchase from nearby drugstore and referrals are regularly made to the St. Timothy Hospital.

When the clinic opens at night, they use Chinese light because they don’t have fuel to run the generator.

Recently Minister of Health Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah assured health workers across the country of the ongoing effort by the Ministry in reaching out to partners for seek funding that would immediately address shortages of essential drugs within the sector.

Dr. Jallah visited Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, and Gbarpolu counties recently and those visits are yet to yield fruitful results, according to medical practitioners. 

The reported shortages in the sector caught the attentions of some lawmakers, who urged the Speaker of the House of Representatives to cite Dr. Jallah and her principal deputies to appear before them.

According to UNDP partnership with the Global Fund: Supporting Implementation, Developing Capacity in Liberia states that a large part of Liberia’s disease burden involves three diseases: AIDS, TB, and malaria.

Although it is preventable and curable, malaria is a severe public health problem. In the early 2000s, when Liberia approached the Global Fund, requesting support for its disease-control efforts, two thirds (66%) of children younger than five years were infected with malaria parasites. 

Malaria was the leading cause of hospital attendance by out-patients (40–45%) and the leading cause of in-patient deaths. By the mid-2000s, close to half (42%) of in-patient deaths were due to malaria (National Malaria Control Programme, 2006). 

The report states that about 60 percent of children under the age of five experience at least one episode of malarial attack each year, and about 20 percent of those cases are considered severe (UNDP, 2007a). 

It has been estimated that about 60,000 children under five years of age die each year in Liberia, and that close to 11,000 of those deaths are attributable to malaria (USAID, 2009).