Open Access Case study

Rebuilding human resources for health: a case study from Liberia

S Tornorlah Varpilah1*, Meredith Safer2, Erica Frenkel2, Duza Baba2, Moses Massaquoi2 and Genevieve Barrow1

Author Affiliations

1 Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Monrovia, Liberia

2 Clinton Health Access Initiative, Monrovia, Liberia

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Human Resources for Health 2011, 9:11  doi:10.1186/1478-4491-9-11

Published: 12 May 2011

Abstract

Introduction

Following twenty years of economic and social growth, Liberia's fourteen-year civil war destroyed its health system, with most of the health workforce leaving the country. Following the inauguration of the Sirleaf administration in 2006, the Ministry of Health & Social Welfare (MOHSW) has focused on rebuilding, with an emphasis on increasing the size and capacity of its human resources for health (HRH). Given resource constraints and the high maternal and neonatal mortality rates, MOHSW concentrated on its largest cadre of health workers: nurses.

Case description

Based on results from a post-war rapid assessment of health workers, facilities and community access, MOHSW developed the Emergency Human Resources (HR) Plan for 2007-2011. MOHSW established a central HR Unit and county-level HR officers and prioritized nursing cadres in order to quickly increase workforce numbers, improve equitable distribution of workers and enhance performance. Strategies included increasing and standardizing salaries to attract workers and prevent outflow to the private sector; mobilizing donor funds to improve management capacity and fund incentive packages in order to retain staff in hard to reach areas; reopening training institutions and providing scholarships to increase the pool of available workers.

Discussion and evaluation

MOHSW has increased the total number of clinical health workers from 1396 in 1998 to 4653 in 2010, 3394 of which are nurses and midwives. From 2006 to 2010, the number of nurses has more than doubled. Certified midwives and nurse aides also increased by 28% and 31% respectively. In 2010, the percentage of the clinical workforce made up by nurses and nurse aides increased to 73%. While the nursing cadre numbers are strong and demonstrate significant improvement since the creation of the Emergency HR Plan, equitable distribution, retention and performance management continue to be challenges.

Conclusion

This paper illustrates the process, successes, ongoing challenges and current strategies Liberia has used to increase and improve HRH since 2006, particularly the nursing workforce. The methods used here and lessons learned might be applied in other similar settings.