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Americares President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis leads a health-focused relief and development organization that saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster.
Nothing is easy. There are moments when all I can do is put my head down and mutter, “How can this be?”
I had one of those moments recently when I heard that a fire burned through an important hospital in Liberia, causing extensive damage to, among other things, the maternity center Americares rebuilt and expanded not that long ago.
Did this have to happen In Liberia? This is a nation that began rebuilding in 2003 after nearly 14 years of civil war. Then came the Ebola epidemic in 2014. The crisis swatted the health system back again–killing thousands, including health workers, and destroying trust in hospitals and clinics. Then, step by step, the country began improvements: In Buchanan, the primary city in Grand Bassa County, a step forward came with upgrades and improvements to the local government hospital, the primary source of health care for people from a wide swath of Liberia who cannot afford expensive private health service. Americares joined the effort, expanding the hospital’s maternity center, which significantly improved health services for pregnant mothers. Now, this latest setback. An electrical short in old wiring to a ceiling fan began a fire that has closed the hospital.
Magdalene at the Zondo Communty Health Clinic in Buchanan, Liberia./Photo by Americares
The impact has been tremendous. Here is what Americares staff member Magdalene Gbatoe reported:
The fire is devastating. There is a huge disease burden in the community because people are not able to afford the cost of a private facility. There are deaths in the community, especially children, from childhood and other communicable diseases. People have gone back to practice traditional herbs and giving birth at home because of the economic burden. Women are giving birth on bare floor.
This is beyond heartbreaking. The local health team, with support from Americares and others, had worked hard to move the hospital forward.
Of course, even in such difficult places we want to make wise investments and do the best work, sustainable work, that will build capacity and make the biggest difference. In the world’s most difficult places — Yemen, Central African Republic, South Sudan — hard work makes things better for a day, a week or a month. In easier places the impact is measured in years and beyond. Both are needed.
In Buchanan, Liberia, what is needed today is to get the hospital back up and running. Local officials are planning to rebuild and Americares has pledged our support. As we helped before, we will help again.
Walk away because it is hard? I don’t think so.
Emergency Response to Hurricane Matthew in Haiti.
Photo by Jemps Civil
I am often asked why we work in places that are so difficult, where progress seems elusive and trouble so common. My answer is always the same: because mothers and fathers and children live there, and they need our help. And because committed health workers there, like the doctors, nurses and community health volunteers at Buchanan, deserve our support.
At a recent speaking engagement, I was asked about another country where it has proved difficult to make progress: Haiti. With all the aid sent there, the query went, nothing seems to get better, so why keep doing it? I agreed it was hard. But mothers and fathers and children live there, and for them, we need to keep at it. We wouldn’t want someone giving up on us.