A Liberia moment:
Metro Minute has been on hiatus because I’ve been in Liberia for a reporting project on mission hospitals. More on that will come soon in the magazine.
Liberia was in its rainy season when I was there, where the skies dump brief, big rains throughout the day. On one day of flooding rains I piled into an SUV with several doctors and nurses from Eternal Love Winning Africa Hospital (ELWA), a longtime mission hospital in the capital. We drove out past the Firestone rubber plantation (the world’s largest), past massive cottonwood trees, past men making charcoal under smoking mounds in the rain, and pulled into a muddy drive that led to a small church building where hundreds of people were waiting.
Since Ebola hit the country in 2014-2015, ELWA has begun sending its staffers out into the rural areas of the country where there is no healthcare to provide basic consultations. They give advice, send patients home with basic drugs for malaria or blood pressure, or send them to the closest clinic as needed. There is one clinic a two-hour walk from this place in Grand Bassa County, but locals said the staff sometimes isn’t there. Occasionally the ELWA workers will rush someone who needs urgent care back to the hospital for treatment.
The church members had divided their small daubed building into consultation rooms using tarps, and the pastor tried to organize the hundreds of people into an orderly line. Some men with umbrellas stepped up to escort people back and forth from a covered area where the masses had gathered to the impromptu doctors’ offices.
Dr. Rick Sacra, an American missionary and longtime family medicine doctor at ELWA, wondered to his co-worker, Antony Cyrus Suah, whether someone could open a sustainable clinic here. Suah, a longtime Liberian physician assistant at ELWA, doubted it would work because people are so poor they wouldn’t be able to pay. He suggested a combination clinic and cassava farm where people could work for their medical care. This is a constant puzzle for the health workers of Liberia—how to create a sustainable system of quality care.
As the doctors began pulling out their stethoscopes and seeing patients, I wondered how they were able to hear heartbeats above the din of the rain and lizards loudly scrabbling across the metal roof. But they did their best to absorb an array of health problems from people who had walked hours for an appointment: a fevered 7-year-old withered from months of weight loss, someone with a serious hernia, children with worms, many with high blood pressure.
“We have to figure out long-term care,” Sacra said, looking at the crowds. Pastor Richard J. Suwee, who was managing a combative line that had too many people for the handful of doctors there, said everyone was mad at him. But he himself did not get an appointment, even though he wanted to talk to the doctors about his chronic migraines. “Today, at least others are treated,” Suwee said. “I give God glory for that.”
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