By Hawa Wesseh
A big news story emerged last week in Monrovia, the nation’s capital, admist unfortunate revelations that the JFK Medical Memorial Center has fallen on hard times. The JFK is the nation’s only referral and also its biggest hospital! Not that the medical center is struggling for funds, but, everything being equal, the meters are pointing to a deficient management and administration that has lost the cause to serve Liberians.
What has surfaced therefore, is a criminal syndicate at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center. When I told my daughter this story she thought it sounded like a tall tale of some sort, but yes it is sad but true, I said after a long pause. The story took a lot Liberians by surprise. The criminal syndicate acting together has managed to defraud the health facility of about half a million United States dollars.
The group headed by JFK’s accountant chief Patrick Konuwa, Boakai J. Varney , Budget and Accounts Officer, and Arnous Rabeah, IT and Database Supervisor, reports say connived with other persons out of the employ of the JFK to open accounts at the First International Bank, diverting needed funds meant for sick Liberians for their own benefits. Liberia has daunting health care needs and challenges which makes the syndicate news even more stupendous!
Konowa, and his band were clever enough and successful in swindling monies that could have bought equipment, drugs, and train medical staff at the institution. The JFK needs all of these and more. Members of the syndicate are said to include former employees of FIB, also.
Today, Liberia is in dire straights, in every socio-economic and political facet, due to the country’s fourteen y ears of war. Because of the war Liberians are depressed, there is so much fustration in the country and h ealth related issues continue to elude Liberians.
According to study, by the A merican Medical Association findings in 2008 said that 40% of adults had shown symptoms of major depressive disorders , while another “44% of adults also had symptoms of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder ” adding sadly that Liberia has just 1 psychiatrist to a population ratio of about 1 million. “It is impossible for 1 psychiatrist to be able to tend to over 1 million victims,” the study said. These monies being taken away from Liberian through graft could help bloster a financial space to help improve health care in the country. Liberia cannot be in the position of constantly begging for donor funding, while the monies meant to help our own people are embezled, and this is what Liberia has now come to symbolize, that individuals will deliberately use public funds as their own private domain, even while their kins are dying and flying out of the country for treatment.
As Sirleaf sought reelection, these were the issues she said she would tackle. The President said she needed the chance at re-election to polish her legacy in an effort to leave a bigger foot print, promising to work hard to redeem the country’s bloated image by setting the country on an “irreversible” track by building on her “transformation agenda.” The task has been daunting however, because according to Liberian Census Bureau only 17% of the population have access to adequate sanitation facilities with almost the entire health care facilities destroyed during the war, which reports say is being gradually rebuilt. By 2011 as the president sought re-election government expenditure on health care per capita was US$22, accounting for 10.6% of total GDP. In 2008, Liberia had only 1 doctor and 27 nurses per 100,000 citizens. When almost half a million dollars is missing from a single govt hospital, you wonder how much would an audit reveal has gone missing from the Health Ministry, and similar health facilities across the country, not to mention monies being lost to official corruption in the public sector! The JFK syndicate is disheartening and rather unfortunate.
Reports say, Liberian prosecutors have issued a 5 counts indictment with several charges levied: economic sabotage, theft of property, money laundering, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation. And that ome of the 15 indictees have already been apprehended and detained at the Monrovia Central Prison [MCP] “after failure to file bonds.”
How was this even possible, for this to have taken place under the noses of the management team at the JFK, given Liberia’s acute needs and especially the needs of children. Aside from these chronic health care needs malnutrition continue to harm Liberian children. A f ew years ago , the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) news reported “that 45% of Liberian children suffer from varying forms of malnutrition . A nutrition adviser from UNICEF told IRIN that malnutrition results in learning deficiencies, which will affect the economy in the future.” Inconprehensible because half a million dollars could have provided drugs and nutrition for a lot of families.
It cannot be over emphasized that the two most important services that citizens should expect from its government, primarily are quality education and health care, the two of which are currently in crisis, as our leaders scrambled to provide answers to the citizens who have entrusted them to help solve the issues that are dear to them—health and education! But more besides, the fact that this wanton and egregious derelict is ongoing at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Medical Center is disheartening, a hospital named after a great American president!
It is hoped President Sirleaf will act urgently. Liberians are dying of curable diseases. Liberians need to know their national govt will provide their health care needs. Perhaps it is time Liberia look to other African countries like Ivory Coast and recently Gabon that are in the process of implementing policies to provide their peoples with a universal health care. The health needs of Liberians are urgent!
The Liberia people have already suffered so much the last few decades. The civil war has taken its toll on them, and so has Ebola, and hence the current dire economic situation in the country has further exacerbated their already worrisome situation.
To add insults, corruption has become a vicious cycle in post war reconstruction Liberia, as the country continuously grows poorer and poorer as a result of intrenched graft and patronage. The United Nations Children and Education Fund [UNICEF] had said “if the status of Liberia’s health does not get better, the country [would] lose $130 million in economic development within the coming 8 years.” And that report was issued in 2009. It is hoped President Sirleaf attention has been drawn to this national issue. Liberians deserves better, because they have been through so much in the last few decades. All they want is to live in their homeland happily, after being on the run from the civil war and ebola.