Things Fall Apart: Unlearnt Lessons Of Liberia’s Health System


If you ever attended middle school or high school in Liberia, then you must be familiar with the book “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. It was a book I enjoyed reading and my favorite phrase from it is “when the center cannot hold, then things fall apart”. Applying this to Liberia, we see all around us that everything is gradually falling apart again.

By Deddeh Supuwood, [email protected], Contributing Writer

From 2014 – 2015, we saw our already struggling health sector crumbled to an enemy that was new, unknown, and very deadly. An enemy who just at the mention of its name makes people tremble with fear; an enemy who left us with so many sad memories; an enemy who left you feeling helpless when a loved one was sick but you could not offer help because you were not allowed to touch them; an enemy that had people dying in the streets and had to be buried in mass graves because we were at war but this time with an unseen enemy; an enemy that denied many of having a place to go decorate lost relative’s grave because there isn’t any to decorate; an enemy who brought our health sector crumbling down to its knees, and that enemy’s name is EBOLA.

When Ebola struck us, it began with disbelief and people accusing Ministry of Health of wanting to steal money. This was the talk of the day until people started falling sick and dying in the streets. Only then did we take it seriously that we were again at war. Hospitals and health centers closed their doors to patients or had to be shut down because of the deadly virus. All around us we heard “no beds available for admission” or “the facility is temporarily closed because there have been several cases of Ebola diagnosed here”.

However, health workers stepped up to the frontline as this was a war they had to fight. Some of the healthcare workers went face to face with Ebola in the treatment unit, while the rest remained in the various health facilities fighting this deadly virus. This war affected us, leaving not only many of our loved ones dead, but also taking away many of the already much needed healthcare workers. The center did not hold so things fell apart. It took resilience as a nation, as a people, and for once Liberians presented a united front and finally fought back. It became “our problem” and not “healthcare workers problem” and at last, Liberia was the first to be declared Ebola free in the region. In union strong, success was sure.

Now it is often said that a wise man learns from his mistakes and change but my question is, did we learn from ours (Ebola) as a nation? Or was it just another sad time in our history? We all hoped that our near extermination experience with Ebola would have taught us to prioritize health but unfortunately it is not the case. It was just a bad moment for us and so having gotten past it, there was no need to strengthen the health sector. All around us we saw and still see politics played, yet not much has been done.

Fast-forward to 2021, we are at war again with yet another unseen enemy. We are again singing the “no beds available” song and this time we have added a new verse to it- “no oxygen”. Corona is raging again, and this time seems to mean real business. We currently have 52 patients admitted at the Corona Treatment Unit (CTU); 35 of these patients are extremely critical and require high flow of oxygen. Oxygen is now scarce like “Gold dust”. This situation could get worse as the days go by as we continue to report nothing less than 50 confirmed new cases per day. However, we are again being political about it so I will ask the question again: Did Ebola teach us anything? If we cannot pay attention to our health, then how are we going to prosper as a nation? It is often said that history repeats itself, but we do not have to repeat negative histories. Let us prioritize our health, let us improve our facilities and let us stop repeating negative histories. Let us plait new and better mat and tread better paths on to progress and prosperity as a nation. This time around let us hold the center together so that things do not fall apart.