Liberia: Bong Residents Laud Swedish Government, UNFPA for Continued Support to Health, Livelihood Development
GBARNGA, Bong County – Residents of Bong and Nimba Counties have expressed their gratitude to the Swedish Government and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for their continued support to several development initiatives in their respective counties.
The Swedish Government, through UNFPA and other partners including the Government of Liberia, is funding several projects in the health and education sectors as well as programs geared towards the promotion of the rule of law and gender equality among others.
The citizens made the commendations to a high-power delegation currently visiting the counties.
The team comprises the Deputy Head of Mission and head of the Swedish Development Corporation at the Swedish Embassy Johan Romare, the new Country Representative of UNFPA, Ms. Bidisha Pillai and the Assistant Health Minister for Curative Services Dr. Gorbee Logan. Others include officials of the British Embassy and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.
The team is conducting a joint field visit of sponsored project sites in Margibi, Bong and Nimba Counties to get firsthand accounts from the beneficiaries about the projects’ impacts, challenges that hindering their full utilization or implementation and recommendations.
At a stop in Gbarnga, Bong County on Monday, August 29, the team met with the hospital’s administration and students of the Esther Bacon School of Nursing and Midwifery. They also visited and toured the Phebe Hospital, the largest referral hospital in the county.
The Phebe Hospital’s medical director, Dr. Jefferson Sibley told the delegates at an indoor program that through the joint support of the Swedes and implementing partners including the Government, there have been much improvements in the hospital’s fistula program. He said out of 26 patients, 24 were treated through surgical operation by a volunteer international surgeon.
He called for support towards the program to assign a resident fistula surgeon to treat patients regularly instead of waiting on surgeons who come occasionally from abroad.
He called for the budget for the fistula repair program be increased to cover transportation for returning fistula Survivors to their communities. In addition, he appeal to UNFPA and other partners to reconsider financing the skill training as part of activities and be budgeted accordingly to encourage reintegration into the society.
Also speaking, the Director of the Esther Bacon School of Health Sciences Humphrey Loweah, said Phebe paramedical training program has achieved a lot from the partners since they began supporting in 2019. Mr. Loweal named the expansion and completion of the skill laboratory and library as a major turning point for the school.
Loweal noted that since their intervention in 2019, enrollment and graduation have increased. “UNFPA has really been helpful to the Phebe School of Nursing since 2019,” he said. “Before the support, the school had never graduated more than five students, but right now we have more people graduating and as I speak, we will have about 14 persons graduating from the school very soon,” he said.
He told the delegation that for the past six semesters, there has been no dropout and the school has changed from awarding diploma to degree. For the first, midwives will be graduating with degree, thanks to the support from the Ministry of Health, Swedish Government and UNFPA, he said.
He then appealed for increased funding for the Phebe training program to continue training and producing quality healthcare workers, increased support to the school’s supplies to commensurate with enrolment.
In addition, the administrator called for full support to the Phebe, especially the Anesthesia program to meet academic requirements since Phebe is the only anesthesia school in the country. He called for support to be extended to other programs including professional nursing and medical laboratory technology since they including the nurses, midwives, anesthetists and lab technicians are all partners in healthcare provision.
The students also joined the school’s administrator in thanking the donors for the support. Robert Korquoi of the Anesthesia department and Yah N. Kpawolo of the midwifery section, in separate remarks, called on the donors to make available mean of transportation for their clinical activities and affiliation, especially for students from hard-to-reach areas including Lofa, Nimba and the southeastern region.
With 1,072 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births, Liberia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, according to UNICEF. The mortality rate of newborns, within the first 28 days of life, is also high—37 for every 1,000 live births.
Speaking briefly, Dr. Logan said, with these statistics, there was a need for continued support to the Phebe School of Nursing and Midwifery to train more midwives and paramedics giving the acute shortage of manpower in the health system.
The Assistant Minister for Curative Services noted that the support to the school was timely and ideal as it is the training hub for nurses and midwives in Liberia. On behalf of the Ministry of Health and the Liberian Government by extension, he thanked the Swedish Government through UNFPA for the meaningful interventions.
UNFPA Country Representatives Ms. Pillai lauded the Phebe Hospital and the Esther Bacon School of Nursing and Midwifery for helping UNFPA make strides in achieve its goal. She said the works at the institutions have direct impact in making sure that every pregnancy is wanted and every delivery is safe.
The Deputy Head of Mission and head of the Swedish Development Corporation at the Swedish Embassy in Liberia Johan Romare thanked the Phebe Hospital and the paramedic school – both administrators and students for the warm reception and for drilling them through the happenings at their institutions. He assured them of the Swedish Government’s continued support, adding the team was on the ground the see and listen in order to make informed decisions.
Hope for Prisoners
The delegation also visited the Gbarnga Central Prison and interacted with the prison supervisors and inmates including convicts and pre-trial detainees who are benefiting from the skill and adult literacy program funded by the Swedish Government through UNFPA.
Through the program, inmates learned basic skills including tailoring, soap making and other arts and crafts; while mostly juvenile prisoners are benefiting from the adult literacy program.
The acting Superintendent of the Gbarnga Central Prison, Richard Mulbah said beneficiaries are selected based on their gravity of the crimes they committed and commitments and cooperation. He said since the training was launched, 40 inmates have graduated and of the number, five have reintegrated.
He added that to sustain the program, plans are being worked out to sell the products that being produce by the beneficiaries on the local markets to use the fund generated to keep the program running.
He appealed for certification of inmates by the sponsors and the Government of Liberia to show as evidence when seeking employment opportunities if they are reintegrated into their communities. He called for continued support to the program to help combat crimes.
“I think this program is very good because it will help them when they are released from jail. This is the only way that crimes would be minimized in the County because when they are set free and have something doing, obviously they won’t want to engage themselves into bad things,” Mulbah said.
The tour continues to several projects sites in Bong and Nimba Counties.