A call to serve in Nimba County, Liberia
by Albert G. Willicor*
On July 18, 2003, “The New York Times” published an article about Ganta United Methodist Hospital. Rebel and government troops fighting in the area had destroyed the grounds and looted what was left during Liberia’s civil war. The doctors, staff, and patients had fled to refugee camps in Guinea, and the reporter described the sickening sound of crunching syringes and glass as he walked the grounds with Ganta physician, Dr. Joseph L. Kerkula. While Dr. Kerkula remarked that it would take a lot to revive the hospital, the reporter declared that revival of the site wasn’t possible. Meanwhile, the United Methodist Committee on Relief had already set up an Advance funds and grants for the hospital’s revitalization. Ganta was up and running in less than a year. I remember thinking, “that reporter is a good writer and he knows a lot about war and destruction, but he doesn’t know very much about Methodists.” Additional support continues today through the Abundant Health initiative.
Christie R. House, editor, “New World Outlook”
Ganta dispensary in the 1950s, where 300-500 patients were treated weekly. PHOTO: GCAH AFRICA #16, P. 97
The civil war has ended. The Ebola pestilence had its toll. They are now devastations of the past. But new challenges have emerged, and Ganta Hospital continues to be a source of solace for the many rural poor.
The needs here are enormous. It is a situation that requires a team of experts in various disciplines. Financial constraints limit our ability to hire adequate staff. In terms of physicians, we are a team of three. Ideally, given our patient load and scope of services, we need five staff doctors. With my long experience and accompanying versatility, our physician shortage need is greatly diminished. The physician staff covers daily outpatient clinics, 24-hour on-call service, surgeries (both emergency and elective), and coverage in specialized clinics.
My responsibility extends also to the Ganta Rehabilitation Center, located on the mission station premises, serving leprosy, burelli ulcer, and tuberculosis patients. Further regional extension of my services includes performing fistula surgeries (women with uncontrolled urination after a difficult delivery) for patients throughout the northeastern region of Liberia. As one of few trained fistula surgeons, I train other doctors to perform minor fistula surgeries. Although the incidence of fistula patients has been reduced, we still see some on occasion.
Ganta United Methodist Hospital in Nimba County. PHOTO: MIKE DUBOSE, UMNS.
My clinic days (twice weekly) usually require long hours because of the large number of people who attend. A marathon of patient consultation, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., is not unusual.
The ever-present road traffic accidents increase the burden of care. Motor bikes have become a major means of transportation in post-war Liberia, but they can be hazardous. Paralysis from spinal injury, along with head injuries and fractures of long bones, is common.
Children are not exempt. Clubfoot, a congenital deformity, is managed here free of charge. Materials are provided by a charitable organization in the United States.
Cancers and other disfiguring growths are an incessant menace to humankind. Recently I performed a colostomy on an elderly woman who presented at midnight with a bowel obstruction because of rectal cancer.
Partners and connections
As caregivers and custodians of the goodwill of the church, it is our duty to harness the satisfaction of those we serve. The past months have highlighted some of the activities that reflect the response of the people we are serving. Continuing education is indispensable to good health care. I am often called to attend and to give lectures to other personnel. I regularly make medical and surgical consultations, including amputation of nonviable limbs and sequestrectomies (removal of dead debris from infected bones).
National and international initiatives, through conferences and workshops on health-care delivery, also shone prominently the first half of 2018. We hosted the Liberia Medical and Dental Association conference in Ganta, during which I presented “Fungal Pneumonia, an uncommon, but emerging disease of global significance.” It was well attended.
In January 2018, we received two volunteers from the United States. One was a neurologist from the state of Oregon, and the other, an anesthetist. Their brief visit was a very rewarding experience. I hope that our friends in mission will continue to arrange such visits.
Dr. Willicor, 2018, assures a Guinean patient in Ganta Hospital on the day of her discharge after treatment for severe heart failure. PHOTO: COURTESY ALBERT G. WILLICOR
The workers union of the Ganta Methodist Hospital in their sense of gratitude, named a structure, which they built through their own effort, after me, dubbed the “Albert G. Willicor Caretaker Center.” It was constructed to house temporarily those from the villages who come to take care of their love ones while they recuperate in hospital.
*Dr. Albert G. Willicor is the chief medical officer of Ganta Hospital and a missionary of the General Board of Global Ministries. He and his wife, Angeline, a nurse at Ganta Hospital, are Liberian.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Fall 2018 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.