Dr. Tolbert Nyenswah Discusses the National Public Health Institute of Liberia

Dr. Tolbert Nyenswah Discusses the National Public Health Institute of Liberia

September 20, 2017
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1. What relationship does your organization have with Liberia or the UCL?

The National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health has a mission to prevent and control public health threats by promoting healthy outcomes while serving as a source of knowledge and expertise. As the center of excellence for better health outcomes for Liberians through a strong health system, the Institute aims to strengthen existing infection prevention and control efforts, laboratories, surveillance, infectious disease control, public health capacity building, response to outbreaks, and monitor diseases with epidemic potential. NPHIL relation with the University of Liberia and other institutions of highest learning in Liberia is paramount. NPHIL is partnering with the University of Liberia addressing national public health needs through the development of a Master in Public Health (MPH) degree programs.

2. Choose one word that summarizes your experience with Liberia/UCL. Why?

Groundbreaking! Because of the terrific academic and professional work to increase learning and leadership in Liberia and the United States.

3. What does your organization offer Liberia’s Health Sector and what can Liberia’s Health Sector offer your organization?

NPHIL offers a lot just to name a few:

  • Contribute to the development and sustainability of the public health workforce.
  • Develop, enhance and expand the surveillance and response platform.
  • Develop and strengthen the laboratory system and public health diagnostics.
  • Develop, enhance and expand process and structures to protect environmental and occupation health.
  • Expand, conduct and coordinate public health and biomedical research to inform Liberian public health policies.
  • Ensure sustainable financing and operations of the NPHIL.
  • Promote healthy lives, reduce suffering and disability.
  • Liberia’s Health Sector can help create the enabling environment for NPHIL to contribute to the investment plan to build a resilient health system. A system that will not collapse like during 2014/2015 unprecedent Ebola crisis but that will only bend during crisis.

4. How has working with Liberia/UCL impacted you/your organization?

Working with Liberia/UCL has been an incredible journey and meaningful to me and my organization. It makes me want to work harder and more committed to public health and Liberia!

5. What hope do you have for Liberia’s Health Sector?

Much progress has been made in the Health Sector of Liberia. But much more is needed to be done in the coming decades towards achieving universal health coverage and equitable, quality and sustainable Health System. Building on over a decade of partnership and collaboration within the Health Sector is hopeful. However, directing the resources to Liberia’s health program seeks to improve the health status of all Liberians, especially the most vulnerable: women, girls, newborns and children under the age of five.  I am hopeful we will together pursue this goal through interventions that support the GOL’s Investment Plan for Building a Resilient Health System in Liberia 2015-2021.

6. Can you reflect and share a story that is a memorable moment between you/your organization and Liberia/UCL? Why is this story meaningful to you?

Leading a national crisis response is a tremendous responsibility. All eyes are on you. In the case of Ebola, being the deadly disease that it is, the responsibility was even greater, not just for the government. It was a tremendous undertaking for my family as they grappled with the magnitude of the situation under my leadership and their fear that I might be exposed directly to EVD at any moment and become infected, thereby putting them at risk for ultimately becoming infected themselves.

It was worrisome, yet, deep in my soul, I knew that it was a task for which I had been preparing all of my life, from the moment of my birth, when my father had the vision of me becoming a leader for my country. Therefore, this assignment was one I had to take without question. Now that the crisis is over, I have the opportunity to reflect further on the lessons I learned from leading the Ebola response, the most challenging assignment of my life.

In this leadership role, I learned many things; some I already knew, some were very new to me, and some I had never imagined. University Consortium for Liberia played a very important role in this endeavor. I worked with colleagues whose advice, personal contributions, mobilizations and welfare made me to achieve this important and noble goal for global health security. There is no substitute for political leadership. The leadership in Liberia’s Ebola response was both top-down and bottom-up. As the IMS chair, I played a special leadership role in organizing and coordinating the Ebola response in every aspect, with the unwavering support of the president of Liberia and the Liberian citizens in general. Leadership comes from within, but opportunities to lead come from the outside.

7. How do you feel about receiving the Award?

I feel overwhelmed and ecstatic to be selected as this year’s University Consortium for Liberia distinguished services awardee. It is a privilege! Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH, ’87 Dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University described and said these words about me in his Bloomberg emerging leader Award letter dated September 1, 2016 “The leadership and vision you have shown demonstrates exceptional and inspiring public health practice, a commitment to championing the critical importance of solving current public health challenges and the capacity for leadership in the field”. He also said “you have an incredible track record making an impact in public health and it is clear you have a bright future ahead. At the Bloomberg School, we train future public health leaders and you clearly are one”.

Less than a year later, precisely on July 31, 2017, I received this letter from Her Excellency Cynthia L. Blandford, President and Chair of the UCL Board saying “On behalf of the University Consortium for Liberia Board of Directors, congratulations on receiving the 2017 UCL Distinguished Service Award.

I am exceedingly honored and indeed privileged! It is the work of God, hard work, commitment to humanity. I am humble and will continue to strive for social justice and equality especially in public health.

Join Dr. Nyenswah for a lecture at Emory School of Medicine on Thursday Sept. 28

Dr. Tolbert Emory Lecture

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