MONROVIA-In what could surpass the Ebola outbreak which claimed more than 4,000 lives and devastated health care delivery, Liberia’s is yet again slipping into another health disaster as hospitals gradually get overwhelmed with hundreds of COVID-19 cases.
Patients are being turned away from the nation’s most recognized hospitals due to the lack of ventilators, oxygen and hospital beds while the country records dozens of new corona-virus cases each day.
At some hospitals, nurses cannot be found to treat sick people either due to lack of medical supplies or for fear of their lives.
In the face of this lack of supplies at hospitals, the Prince Ibrahima and Isabella Freedom Foundation (PIIFF), a US based Liberian Charity has nearly USD$5 million worth of relief medical supplies that could save lives, stuck at Freeport of Monrovia.
The supplies held at the Freeport of Monrovia due to accumulated storage and demurrage delayed fees are basically medical, emergency, fire, transportation, and other logistical equipment: stretchers, oxygen tanks, masks, and fire suits, cutting tools for major accidents, defibrillators, ventilators, beds, PPES, tractors, vehicles, watercrafts, and a 130kva generator among others.
They were given to The Prince Ibrahima and Isabella Freedom Foundation (PIIFF) by the US City of Chicago, the third largest municipality with a USD $12 billion annual budget, with plans to donate additional vehicles and equipment for this initiative.
Sadly, after 45 days delays due to bureaucracy from the various governmental agencies requiring signatures— Liberia National Fire Service, LRA, and Commerce, the exempt process proved useless as the accumulation of fees owed to APM and the shipping lines far outweighed the benefit of the process. Frustratingly, costing the foundation nearly USD $12k per container, if it had any chance to clear out of the port.
PIIFF said to date, the government to whom it regularly donates these items, especially the Liberia National Fire Service has done nothing to foot or help settle the storage.
“We paid USD$24k to clear two containers and we realized it didn’t make sense for us to pay such amount anymore while we donate these things to the very government demanding us to make such payment” said Dr. Artemus Gaye, the head of the US-based Liberian charity.
Dr Gaye stated to this paper, he had earlier paid for storage in the USA costing $55 thousand and an extra $USD16k when the 50 ft. trailers with these very equipment on board were towed by the city of Chicago.
To avoid embarrassment, PIIFF immediately rallied resources to ship 9 containers to Liberia while raising $USD60 thousand for the shipment from the USA to Liberia.
In a rather frustrating tone the head of PIIFF disclosed it has been decided that the remaining 6 containers go through the auction process and then “we can pay for them to avoid the high storage and other charges”.
It can be recalled that in July 2020, the US Government offered to fly or ship the medical and relief items through its HART program under the US Dept. Of Defense to Liberia for free but requested a landing right or waiver from the Liberian government which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs failed to respond to. Letters are in our possession.
According to the charity, it anticipated this crisis almost immediately when the COVID crisis struck after its assessment of Liberia’s fragile health and social sectors.
Said Dr. Gaye: “this prompted two trips in 2019 and 2020 to engage the Liberian government to see reason in building private-public relationship with Liberian run charities in the diaspora with long record of achievements”.
Dr. Gaye expressed optimism about the fate of the items but said the challenge now remains getting the items from the port and getting them to serve the people with a goal of establishing an emergency and disaster training institute near the Roberts-field and building substations in every district in Liberia political sub-divisions so that people have access to these equipment.
PIIFF from its inception was involved in Liberia’s first healthcare grant (malaria, TB, HIV) under the EJS led administration when a high power delegation from Illinois, helped secured a USD $40 million from the World Health Organization.
Similar gesture was done to recruit 40 nursing students to Chicago but due to poor coordination from the Ministry of Health, the program was shelved.
Before the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia, the state of Illinois invited the Liberian health authorities to articulate their needs and what the state could do to bolster Liberia’s fragile healthcare system, the delegation travelled to the USA but failed to show up at the major conference held by the hosts in Illinois at Northwestern University, that’s according to Dr. Artemus Gaye, who was then a co-host to the Liberian delegation.
Sadly, four month later, Ebola hit Liberia, killing more than 4000 citizens and devastated the country’s already poor health sector.
In spite of it all, Liberia is our common denominator and we can never give up on this beautiful but fragile nation–because we are its biggest investor’s forms and shapes. “We must rally together for the common-good,” Gaye concluded