Liberia: MSF Hands Over Hospitals to Ministry of Health

After Twenty Years of Emergency Aid, Challenges Still Lie Ahead; Long-term International Support Needed

After 20 years, MSF handed over the two hospitals it has been running in Liberia to the country's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

Monrovia, Liberia, June 25, 2010 — After providing 20 years of emergency medical aid in Liberia, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today officially stopped running its remaining two hospitals in the country and the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoH&SW) has taken responsibility for the services previous provided by MSF.

Following the end of civil war in 2003 and elections in 2005, MSF began to progressively hand over its emergency projects and hospitals in many of Liberia’s 15 counties. At the start of this year, MSF was still operating two free hospitals in the capital, Monrovia—Benson Hospital in Paynesville, and Island Hospital in Bushrod Island—treating more than 20,000 women and children, per year.

“Liberia was devastated by 14 years of brutal civil war, with its health system left in ruins by its end,” said Dr. Dhammika Perera, MSF head of mission for Liberia. “Recovery is always slow, but today the Ministry of Health takes over MSF’s last hospital services. However, we remain in the country providing care to victims of sexual violence -- but after two decades, it is an important milestone for us and symbolic of how far Liberia has come in providing healthcare to its people again.”

“As an emergency organization, MSF provides medical aid to people in extreme crisis,” said Dr. Perera. “As Liberia moves steadily towards stability, our role greatly diminishes and the government’s further increases. However, major challenges remain to ensure that the most vulnerable – women and children – continue to receive much needed free care. There are no cheap solutions; as Liberia reconstructs, the international community must step up and provide increased support.”

To minimize gaps that could be created by the closure of its last two hospitals, MSF constructed the James N. Davies Junior Memorial Hospital in Jacob Town Neezoe in Monrovia, transferred its services there, and donated it to the MoH&SW. MSF also added 80 pediatric beds and increased the pediatric services available in Monrovia’s main public hospital, Redemption Hospital.

Longer term support rather than emergency aid is now needed. There are currently less than 100 doctors in a country of 3.6 million, and just over 250 children’s hospital beds in Monrovia, a city of more than one million people. In addition to increasing the pediatric care available, Liberia also needs greater free emergency obstetric and gynecological capacity and better access to free women’s health services.

“We came a long way since the war, but there is a great deal of work ahead,” said Dr. Walter Gwenigale, Liberia’s minister of health and social welfare. “We face difficult obstacles to making our promise of free care a reality for people who cannot even afford their daily bread. To overcome these we will need continued commitment from international donors to increase the numbers of hospitals beds, guarantee staff salaries, ensure drug supply in hospitals, and train new medical staff.”

From July 2010, MSF will work in collaboration with the MoH&SW to provide much needed free medical and psychological care to survivors of sexual violence in up to three MoH&SW health structures.

MSF has provided medical humanitarian aid in Liberia since 1990. The handover of its last hospital services is the most significant reduction of activities during the organization’s two decade presence in the country. MSF remains in Liberia to support the MoH&SW to address sexual violence. During Liberia’s civil war, rape was extremely widespread. Incidence of rape and domestic violence remained high in the period directly following the conflict, and in 2009 it was the second most frequently reported serious crimes in Liberia, after armed robbery. In 2005-2006, out of 1,600 women interviewed for a government survey, 92% had experienced some form of sexual violence. In 2007, 46% of reported rape cases to the Liberian National Police involved children under the age of 18. MSF has been treating survivors of sexual violence in Liberia since 2003. Last year, MSF provided comprehensive medical and psychological care to 1,655 sexual violence survivors.