Liberia: Citizens in Kolahun Taxing Themselves to Buy Drugs for Government Hospital There

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KOLAHUN, Lofa County – In the wake of severe economic hardship and constraints confronting vast majority of the already impoverished Liberians across the country, citizens of Kolahun District in Lofa County are said to be soliciting funds on a weekly basis to combat against the consistent shortage of medicines at the only referral hospital in the region.

The Kolahun Medical Hospital is situated between three political districts including Wahassa, Lukembay and Kolahun.

Making the disclosure in an exclusive interview with FrontPage Africa recently in Kolahun, the hospital’s Medical Director Raphael O. Shamavu disclosed that the citizens, mostly farmers and others were constrained to embrace a Drug Revolving Program launched in the area to guarantee the provision of medical supplies at the facility.

He disclosed that authorities of the hospital launched the initiative to tackle the persistent prescribing of medicines for patients who normally showed up at the facility for treatment to go elsewhere to purchase.

He added that prior to the launch of the program; the locals were catching tough times in having access to effective and efficient healthcare delivery due to the delay in the supply of medicines and other essential drugs to the Kolahun Hospital by health authorities in Monrovia as a result of bad road conditions.

The program

Dr. Shamavu pointed out that under the Drug Revolving Program, funds are collected from the citizens by the local government authorities and deposited in a special account for the sole purpose of purchasing medical supplies and essential drugs at the hospital.

Dr. Shamavu added that the drugs purchased with funds collected from the citizens are again sold at a “cost price” to patients seeking medical attention at the hospital.

“We have some issues sometimes when it comes to drug supplies; you know our road condition and also the shortage of funds make us to have shortage of medication and essential drugs. This is a situation that is everywhere including Monrovia. We have issues of drug shortage here before but what we did to solve the problem is by starting drug revolving and Kolahun Hospital was the first government hospital to start drug revolving in the whole country”.

“Drug revolving means that the hospital will purchase the drugs through the money that was given by the communities, through the leadership of the district, purchase drugs and sell it to patients at a cost price and use the monies that were generated to replenish the pharmacy”.

He attributed the decision taking by health authorities to request the citizens to help in the purchasing of medical supplies, to the lack of adequate budgetary support from government to the hospital, noting that, “the money we started with as a seed was very small and so you will not have the amount of drugs that is really needed”.

Locals agreed?

Dr. Shamavu indicated that community engagements were carried out in the area to encourage the locals to contribute towards the initiative.

“We talked to our people and convinced them. We said ‘look, if we continue to have drug shortage at the hospital, everybody will be affected some kind of way; it may not be you directly but your family member or someone from you’. Everybody came together with the local authorities and also our partner-Restore Hope Liberia and three parties accepted to contribute. One party was Restore Hope, the second was the citizens of this place we called the Bande people who are living in the United States and the citizens who are here locally”.

He pointed that following the climax of a meeting to launch the initiative, each citizen in Kolahun agreed to contribute the amount of L$100 on a weekly basis for the Drug Revolving Program at the hospital.

He stressed that the initiative is also characterized with a high level of transparency and accountability.

“For the sake of transparency, we opened an account with the local bank that is here. We deposit money on a weekly basis. There is no one single Liberian dollar that leaves the account or that goes to any expenditure without being withdrawn from the bank. We are using the bank system to track how the Drug Revolving fund is being used”.

Dr. Shamavu named authorities of the Kolahun Hospital and its Board, as well as the Paramount Chief of Kolahun as the signatories to the account.

First US$16,000 collected

Dr. Shamavu recalled that the Drug Revolving Program which commenced in Kolahun in 2021, initially raised the amount of US$16,000 for the purchase of medicines at the hospital.

According to him, the first consignment of medical supplies was purchased to be sold at “cost price” to the patients.

“The district authorities are the ones doing the collection in Liberian dollars by household. The Clan, Town Chiefs and others who are responsible are the ones collecting the money. They make report to the district authorities and the district authorities turn over the money to the Drug Revolving system. The citizens are part of every aspect of the Drug Revolving”.

Result impressive

“Since we started the Drug Revolving, the result is very, very impressive. At least the drugs we are serving to the patients, we know that it is important; we know the quality and how it is being preserved before being served to the patients”.

Prior to the launch of the program, Dr. Shamavu recalled that patients were purchasing drugs from the “communities and everywhere”, stating that, their action “was causing a lot of harm, but now we are on track”.

Dr. Shamavu further commended the locals in Kolahun for being “very responsive” to the program.

Population huge

Dr. Shamavu pointed out that despite the efforts being applied by the locals in Kolahun to complement the efforts being applied by government in providing healthcare delivery to its citizens, more need to be done due to the huge population in the area and the influx of patients at the Kolahun Hospital on a daily basis.

He maintained that most often, authorities at the facility experienced difficulties in ensuring the timely provision of medical supplies due to bad road conditions.  

“We have a huge amount of population and the amount of drug we have is very small. Most of the time or for one or two weeks, the drugs we have finished. And you know from here to go to Monrovia, it takes maybe a week before another supply is done. And during that time, there is already a stock out. We have close to 200 patients every day and those people have to go to the lab and they have to be given medication”.

Commendation and passionate plea

Dr. Shamavu, however, appreciated the efforts being applied by health authorities in Liberia to extend the initiative to other parts of Liberia.

He noted that though the program was not considered in the past, the decision taken by Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah and her team to embrace the Drug Revolving Program worth commendation.

According to him, the essence of the Drug Revolving Program is to help save lives and as such, the Ministry of Health should encourage authorities at other public health facilities across Liberia to follow suit.

“We really want to appreciate the efforts made by the Ministry because; never in the government certain were you allowed going to drug revolving. Everybody knew the system and everything was free, free, and free. But it was not really working. We want the ministry to reinforce this particular system across the country so that our patients can receive the right drugs”.

“We are praying to anybody who is really wishing to help Kolahun district and hospital to invest in the Drug Revolving Program so that we can save more lives”.

In a brief interview with FrontPage Africa sometimes ago in Kakata, Margibi County, Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah embraced the Drug Revolving Program.

She emphasized that the move being made by the locals in some parts of the country is a welcoming endeavor that signifies citizens’ willingness and commitment to collective work towards improving the country’s healthcare delivery system.

What are the locals saying?

Citizens of Kolahun are divided over the Drug Revolving Program launched in the area, with many describing the move as a clever way of “escaping responsibility to provide adequate healthcare delivery” by the Liberian government.

On the other hand, others see the move as one that is intended to “buttress” government efforts towards finding solutions to the mountainous problems confronting Liberia and its citizens.

Despite the mixed views over the Drug Revolving Program, the locals consistent “widow’s mat’s contribution” towards the initiative which is intended to guarantee their well-being at the only referral public health facility, remain certain and unhindered in the midst of extreme poverty and hardship that they continue to encounter on a daily basis in the leeward area.

Many of the locals in Kolahun depend are engaged into low-scale commercial farming activities to sustain them and their respective family members.