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Liberian President Calls For Free Health Services

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Lisa Schlein

Liberian President, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson is urging countries to make free health care available to the poor.  The Liberian president told ministers attending the World Health Assembly that too many people in developing countries are suffering from ill health and are dying because they cannot get the care they need.

Liberian President, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, says people should not have to die because they are poor.  But, she notes poor people are dying all the time because they cannot get the treatment they need to keep them healthy and to keep them alive.

She says the statistics in her country bear this out.  She notes many improvements in health have been made since Liberia's 14-year civil war ended in 2003.  For example, she says the prevalence of malaria has fallen by half and child mortality rates have been cut by 50 percent.

But, she says there has been a sharp increase in the number of women dying in childbirth.  And, this is because they do not have access to the skilled care they need.  

She notes more than 90 percent of Liberia's population lives on less than $2 a day.  This makes health care unaffordable.  

Because of this sad reality, she says Liberia along with Nepal, Burundi, Sierra Leone and Ghana have established a new program, which allows the poorest members of their society to get the health care they need without having to pay for it up front.

"In our own case in Liberia, we committed to making permanent our temporary suspension of users' fees and to providing free health care for all depending on the continuing support of adequate donor finance to make this possible," said President Johnson.  "Offering free health care services at all public health facilities has significantly increased outpatient attendance across the country."  

President Johnson says the government also is expanding access to health care by building more clinics and health facilities and this also is making a big difference.

In addition, she says Liberia now has more trained health workers that are implementing policies to make sure health care is equitable.

"What is equally clear to us is that the people who are least able to pay for this care should not be the ones forced to do so," she added.  "The implication is clear.  Often such people simply do not have the money to pay and often they die as a result."  

The Liberian president acknowledges that free health care is not free.  It costs money, which has to come from somewhere.  She appeals to international donors to continue and to increase their support for free health facilities in poor countries.  Such support, she says, will save countless lives and improve the economic and development prospects of poor countries.

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