Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Labor (and Delivery) Day Weekend in Monrovia

The Project HOPE team arrived at JFK bright and early on Friday morning. The first stop was a meeting with Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, the head of OB/GYN at the Maternity Hospital, and her nursing supervisors.

They are very happy to have us here. Dr. Jallah explained that the hospital will be undergoing a total renovation starting in a few months, courtesy of the Japanese government. The Japanese also carried out the original construction. The Chinese government is funding a renovation project in the Memorial Hospital, and there is a year-round Chinese medical presence as well.

After the meeting, the Hopies spent several hours working on the units. On the main floor there is an emergency room and an OB/GYN clinic, which were both very busy all day, as well as the labor and delivery room, which is one large room with 7 beds. On the second floor there is an operating room, where Kathleen observed a C-section that went perfectly, and the post-partum and NICU units.

The hospital has a spacious dining room for the doctors and nurses, and they graciously invited us to join them on weekdays for lunch. Chicken (not too spicy), eggplant parmesan, rice and beans (spicy) were on the menu on Friday. All very good!

After lunch, we went over to the Memorial Hospital for the APS (Africa Partnership Station) Donation Ceremony. There were 10 trucks lined up outside carrying the pallets of donated goods that had been transported on the Swift. There was a red carpet and a receiving line with Navy, U.S. Embassy and Liberian government officials awaiting the arrival of Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia. We walked the carpet, shook hands and went inside. The hall was decorated in the colors of the Liberian and American flags – red, white and blue. The Liberian flag has 6 red stripes and 5 white stripes, representing the 11 counties, and one large white star on a navy blue field. (As in Texas, there are many businesses and products called “lonestar” this or that.) There were balloons hanging from the ceiling and an entire wall was draped in crepe paper. A live band was playing local pop music. Reggae beat.
Some of it was English; some in a dialect that I still have to figure out. There was a press contingent of a dozen reporters and cameramen.

When Madame President entered, a man blew a horn painted red, white and blue. Mrs. Vera Cooper, the acting administrator of the medical center, gave the welcoming statement, then there were remarks by the U.S. Embassy ChargĂ© d’Affairs and the acting Minister of Health, followed by remarks from President Sirleaf and a ribbon cutting.

It’s clear from this level of attention that JFK is a high priority for the government. One can imagine the entire complex being restored to its former glory and becoming a beacon of hope for the population.

It’s very satisfying for us as Project HOPE volunteers to be part of the vanguard.

On Saturday, we spent some time in the morning preparing lectures and then we went to the Maternity Hospital after lunch. Amanda, Jen and Kathleen worked in the ER and on the wards; the clinic isn’t open on weekends. We got back to the ship around 4:30 and about an hour later the military medical team finally arrived. Their transport had been delayed 3 days, giving them “bonus” stays in Italy, Spain and Cape Verde. As fun as that sounds, we’re glad we took commercial flights from the States! It would have been hard getting ready for the course to begin on Monday had we lost all those days.

Sunday was a “cultural” day. The ladies went to church with Amanda and her family and the Navy provided a BBQ with a live band on the pier in the afternoon and evening.

Happy Labor Day! It will be labor and delivery day for us…Tom Stanton

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