What Am I Hearing About The Lepers In Liberia?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

In the field of journalism, media practitioners get closer to certain groups, individuals and institutions because of their assignments, which are known in the profession as ‘BEATS.” Because a particular media practitioner covers a beat extensively, such a person gets to know a lot about that area or institutions, as well as individuals. By this also, one also develops a special relationship with those that he or she interacts with while covering such a beat, and as human, would always share the plight and, concern of those individuals. As it is often said, their problem would also be the problem of the media practitioners as he or she would endeavor to advocate for them.

So was it many years ago when I was assigned as a reporter with the DAILY OBSERVER Newspaper, to the National Leprosy Program under the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, with one Dr. J. C. Johnson, as the man in charge of the program those days. This assignment provided me the opportunity to travel with the team from the Health Ministry to Ganta, Nimba County, where the leprosy center was located.During that time, I saw how the government was concerned about thelepersand even efforts to make them marketable.

Considering what I saw in the past and what I heard this week, I was really disappointed that this group of citizens that really need government’s attention has been left out of the budget. This is a major component of the welfare program of the government and how this happened is something to ponder over.

The plight of the lepers came to light this week when President Sirleaf who had gone to BongCounty to participate in the dedication of the Suacoco center at Cuttington, was approached on the matter by the leper. They complained that they have been forgotten and abandoned by the society.

Lamentingly, their spokesperson, Stephen Kennedy explained that they lack good housing facilities, food, water and medication. He lamented that six persons died last month while two others are on critical list. He also explained that they have one deplorable building that is being used for school from grade zero to sixth. “But whenever it rains, we can’t have classes because the place is leaking,” he added.

After listening to the sad story of the lepers, President Sirleaf pleaded with them to be patient because they were not included in the budget. She said as of now, they will take into consideration their plight and have them included in the next budget.

Earlier the spokesperson praised the President for being the first Liberian President to visit their center in Gbarnga, Bong County. The spokesperson also recounted how during the political season they were taken in vehicles by their lawmakers to the Sgt. Kollie Town Polling Center to cast their ballots in favor of those lawmakers, with empty promises that they would be taken care of and given a decent living, but unfortunately after the elections, nothing has been said or done for them. He expressed disappointment in the lawmakers for neglecting them.

I take interest in this matter, not because it was one of my areas of assignment, but by the mere fact that this group of individuals would be left out of the budget, especially so as it relates to government’s welfare programs for its citizens in such condition. Not only that this group of citizens was left out of the budget, but political leaders have not even shown interest in their plight. I never heard anyone, including politicians, some of whom represent their districts, raising issues about them. I am aware that they are located in a district that is represented by someone in the House of Representatives.

One of the reasons for electing people in the housed is to seek the interest of their people. This is why under the democratic system, with the Doctrine of Checks and Balances and in keeping with the issue of oversight functions, , the Executive Branch presents the national budget to the Legislature, for  its perusal and input for similar reasons like that of the plight of certain class of citizens such as the lepers in the society.

Let me say that I am one person who does not believe that it is the work of lawmakers to build roads, bridges, schools or hospitals. Even though during the campaigning for legislative posts, they may have created that impression on the minds of voters and I still don’t believe that this is their function.

Sincerely, what I believe is that they have a duty to raise issues relative to these matters. This is why they have three major functions- Representation, Lawmaking and Oversight Responsibilities, meaning that have to check to make sure also that those things that have to do with the welfare and well-being of the people are taken into consideration seriously in discussing the budget and other matters.

For me, as someone who covered the leprosy program many years ago, I am also guilty of not checking on their plight. But let me say that I never expected or foresaw that such group of citizens would be left out of the budget on government’s welfare program; more so when there is a special office on such matter.

Frankly, the way things are, we are lending credence to the myth many years ago about people with this disease. The myths and misconceptions (read page 3) have been proven otherwise.

In closing, let me say that considering the plight of the lepers presently, there is need for some contingency, while waiting the next budget year. As it is said in Liberia, “dry dog sweet,” but what would one be eating before the dog be eaten? And so, again, while awaiting the budget, government should find means to cater to the lepers.

As it is said, “to err is human,” therefore, let this be considered as one of the errors in the budgeting process. Don’t ask me about those politicians who used the lepers to vote for them and have now abandoned them. This is not my concern here. My concern is to inspire authorities to seek ways and means to help these lepers who should also benefit from the income of the country.

Until we realize that these are human beings, despite their condition, that needs attention, not only when we need their votes, but also for their welfare and well being, I REST MY CASE.

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