Lack of hospital care for children in focus as Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf visits MSF hospital in Monrovia

© MSF As more than four years have passed since the end of the civil war and the country is stabilising, MSF is preparing to hand over its activities after nearly two decades in Liberia. MSF has worked for several years to focus attention on the importance of mobilising adequate resources to address the immediate health needs of the population and of identifying alternatives to humanitarian assistance. The president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, visited the MSF-supported Island Paediatric Hospital in Monrovia this past weekend. The President was shown around the children's hospital, which admits over 1,000 patients every month, and spoke to patients and staff. Because the children being treated by MSF today have no other place to go for hospital care, the organisation has decided to continue to support Island hospital until 2009. However, MSF is a humanitarian organisation that mainly provides assistance in emergencies. In her speech during the visit, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf thanked MSF for the organisation's work over many years in Liberia and said that she appreciated MSF's decision to remain in the country until 2009 to allow the government of Liberia and the Ministry of Health to build capacity to take over the responsibility of providing paediatric care. She stressed that it is the responsibility of the Liberian government to address and to meet these medical needs. MSF took the opportunity of the visit to focus attention on the problem of lack of access to free hospital care for children in Monrovia. Today, the needs for paediatric care in the capital are far from being met and apart from MSF, there are very few other actors providing free hospital care for children. "MSF's long history in Liberia clearly demonstrates our strong commitment to providing care for vulnerable groups but there is now an urgent need for the Ministry of Health and other actors to plan to take over not only the activities that MSF implements, but also to seek a more comprehensive answer to the problem of access to paediatric health care," said Karl Nawezi, Head of Mission for MSF in Liberia. As more than four years have passed since the end of the civil war and the country is stabilising, MSF is preparing to hand over its activities after nearly two decades in Liberia. MSF has worked for several years to focus attention on the importance of mobilising adequate resources to address the immediate health needs of the population and of identifying alternatives to humanitarian assistance. Island Hospital provides free care and is located in one of the poorest areas of Monrovia. It offers a range of paediatric care, including treatment of malaria, respiratory infections, HIV and tuberculosis, as well as care for victims of sexual violence. MSF estimates that, to meet the needs for paediatric hospital care in Montserrado County, where Monrovia is located, at least 500 hospital beds need to be available for children. Today, there are about 281 paediatric hospital beds available in the county. Of these, Island Hospital provides 59 percent and MSF, which also supports a paediatric ward at Benson Hospital, provides a total of nearly 80 percent of all paediatric hospital beds in Monrovia. Free care crucial Island Hospital is overcrowded and there is often more than one child in each bed. The reason for the very high number of patients is that there are very few other places in Monrovia where parents can take their sick children, and that the care provided by MSF is free. In his speech, MSF Head of Mission, Karl Nawesi, highlighted the importance of continuing to implement the policy of free care that the Liberian government has instituted and to ensure that it becomes a reality for all patients. MSF has worked in Liberia since 1990. In Monrovia, MSF runs Island Hospital, a paediatric facility, and provides paediatric and maternity care as well as obstetric surgery at Benson Hospital, where the organisation also runs a women's health centre. Also in the capital, MSF supports two primary health clinics and provides medical care for survivors of sexual violence. In Saclapea, Nimba County, MSF supports a health centre providing outpatient and inpatient services.