On the weekend of November 12, 2021, the Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons (LCPS) took its tally of trained specialized doctors to eighty-nine (89) with the certification of thirty (30) new specialists at the college’s 5th convocation and Annual General Scientific Meeting. The specialists received postgraduate certificates in varying medical disciplines including ophthalmology, pediatrics; family medicine, internal medicine; general surgery and obstetrics/gynecology. The LCPS residency is a three-year training program under the Government of Liberia’s flagship postgraduate medical entity that is training specialized medical doctors locally in partnership with the World Bank and academic partners from Boston Children’s Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital, University of Massachusetts, Yale University, the LV Prasad Eye Institute in India among several others. It is very important to note that prior to the inauguration of LCPS, there were approximately only fifteen (15) specialized Doctors in Liberia.
In his remarks, the President of the College, Prof. Benjamin L. Harris stated that the LCPS is a small and young college but it “exudes the sense of pride about its journey despite numerous challenges” – a college that has nevertheless gained stature among postgraduate colleges in the region that is continuing to make important contributions to Liberia as well as to the health and wellbeing of the people of Liberia.
According to Prof. Harris, the college started with four core faculties: internal medicine, pediatrics, general surgery and obstetrics/gynaecology but has since added more disciplines over the last three years beginning with family medicine in 2017; ophthalmology in 2018; and psychiatry in 2019.
“Today, we are pleased to state that we will be certificating 30 new specialist doctors including: ophthalmology which is putting out its first two graduates; by the end of today, the college would have certificated eight-nine (89) specialist doctors,” Prof. Harris indicated.
The 5th Convocation class had more female specialists than all previous cohorts, according to Prof. Harris.
“At the start of the college, there were only 144 doctors in the country catering to the four million population and there were only 15 who has specialist training. This figure is far below the WHO recommended ratio of one to a thousand. This severe shortage harshly impacted the healthcare sector. The need for post graduate training in Liberia has become necessary,” the LCPS President noted.
Whilst celebrating the strides made since the inception of the postgraduate program, the LCPS President is imploring the Government of Liberia to step up its support to capacity building efforts in the healthcare sector by taking “drastic measures” to alleviate the financial stress health education providers like LCPS face in the country or risk seeing the system crash.
“We urge the government of Liberia to do more to support medical institutions in Liberia. We ask the government to launch a special fund akin to the road fund to support medical education by setting aside a small amount. I foresee that if drastic measures are not taken to alleviate the financial challenges in health education in the country, the system may subsequently crash,” he emphasized.
Speaking earlier, the Secretary General of the LCPS, Dr. Jeanetta K. Johnson said there is a need to remind stakeholders that strengthening health system is not just concerned with improving people’s health but protecting them against the financial cost.
As part of the convocation which was held under theme: Health Systems Strengthening –The Liberian Experience: Past, Present and Future; the college also launched “a major milestone- the LCPS Fellowship program to sustain the residency program of the college” and the Family medicine has met the criteria set to join the fellowship and will thereafter be certificated. The fellowship was launched by Prof. Roseda E. Marshall, founding president of the LCPS.
Prof. Marshall indicated that the college, through the launch of the fellowship program is giving the Government of Liberia, the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, the University of Liberia and the Ministry of Health the lead to take charge of the fellowship by providing staff and technical equipment. “The college is saying yes we give you the green light. When you apply, there’s certain criteria that you must meet to be a part.” Prof. Marshall pointed.
Dr. Abraham Saah Borbor Lecture Series was resumed and second lecturer was Dr. Rose Jallah Macauley in honour of the late Liberian doctor who is credited for his pivotal role in the establishment of the LCPS.
Dr. Macauley reminded the graduates that they are the future of Liberia’s healthcare delivery system. “Do not settle for mediocrity, be bold. Always be led by the called reason why you pursued this path of career.,” she stressed.
Dr. Sia-Watta Camanor, Chief Medical Officer of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, in remarks, indicated that since 2013, the college has produced twenty-nine (29) Obstetrics/Gynaecologists; Nineteen (19) surgeons; nineteen (19) Internists; seventeen pediatricians; seven (7) family medicine specialists and two (2) ophthalmologists.
She admonished the new specialists to take into account the mammoth task ahead of them while celebrating their achievement: in spite of your personal challenges, there are people already waiting for care.
Dr. Camanor disclosed that the country now has its first Electroencephalography (EEG) to accurately diagnose seizure and other brain related abnormalities.
Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, Dr. Gorbee Gabriel Logan said while Liberia moves away from physician-based medicine to specialist-based medicine, there is a need for improving the diagnostic capacity of various healthcare centers across the country including clinics as well.
He disclosed that the Ministry of Health has 329 doctors out of which twenty-nine are studying abroad in different areas of specialties.
Dr. Logan added that there is an ongoing policy conversation at the Health Ministry to increase the percentage of healthcare facilities that are providing 24-hour services across the country that constitute only twelve percent (12%) of the total number of healthcare centers in Liberia.
The daylong event also included a symposium that brought together state actors, technicians, donors including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and experts in the healthcare sector. The specific theme of the symposium was “Equity in Health Care – Out of Pocket Expenditure”, the importance of which cannot be overemphysized.