'I Apologize': Dr. James Sirleaf is Still Committed to Liberia

'I Apologize': Dr. James Sirleaf is Still Committed to Liberia

Nearly 48 hours after his comments in both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post set off a firestorm in Monrovia, Dr. J. Adamah Sirleaf, a son of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is firing back, renewing his pledge to Liberia and declaring that he has not turned his back on the country led by his mother.

Dr. Sirleaf was quoted in both the Post and the Wall Street Journal as saying: “The symbolism of me going there and potentially getting Ebola when I have a nine- and a seven-year-old at home isn’t worth it just to appease people. I’ve made a commitment not to live in Liberia for many reasons, and I think my contribution means more.” That, too, is a decision Sirleaf is willing to defend: “I've lost friends to Ebola. I can’t see the wisdom in sending unspecialized American volunteers to face that risk.”

Critics of Dr. Sirleaf say his comments contradicts his mother’s appeal to the world for doctors and humanitarian aid to deal with the Ebola outbreak, declaring in an open letter to the world last Sunday: The whole world has a stake” in preventing an unfolding catastrophe in Liberia as she urged nations to provide more medical experts and supplies to confront the exploding Ebola epidemic.

But illustrating the difficulties of heeding that call, her own son, a physician, has stayed in the U.S., saying he can do more for his country there than at home. “It is the duty of all of us as global citizens to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves.”

Below is a full text of Dr. Sirleaf’s response to the controversy in a letter to FrontPageAfrica Wednesday


The Editor,

I apologize to all involved as my comments to the Wall Street Journal were taken out of context and left the unfortunate impression that I do not care about Liberia and Liberians during this crisis. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the last seven plus years, I have spent a lot of time working to address some of the gaps in the health care system of the country. My commitment to Liberia, and especially the health care system, remains firm. Even during the initial outbreak of Ebola this March, I and my family, including my wife and small children, visited Liberia, and I again enjoyed the opportunity to do some work there with friends and colleagues. I will continue to do so.

A native of Liberia, my commitment to our country, especially in this period of extreme need, is unwavering. A health care practitioner, my continued respect for the heroic services of my colleagues remains nothing short of admirable. For me, Ebola is not a nameless and faceless virus. Like many, it has broken my heart. I worked with the late Doctors Samuel Brisbane and Abraham Borbor at the JFK. They were not simply professional colleagues. They were my friends.

Since founding the HEARTT Foundation in 2007, we have recruited medical specialists - almost 100 doctors to volunteer their time at various hospitals in the country, and to teach at the medical school. I cannot state how many countless lives were saved; how many severe aliments were solved; and most importantly for us Liberians, all of the children who were given a chance at a better life by the HEARTT pediatricians.

There are many Liberian medical professionals today on the front line, recruited and trained by HEARTT. We remain very proud of what we have accomplished and deeply humbled for the privilege to assist our people. We may never truly know how may lives we continue to touch and to save. But we know we cannot stop.

From complicated surgeries to teaching others, we cherish what we do. We are proud of what we have been able to achieve so far. What is more, we will continue to do volunteer work in the country knowing that many have been blessed by what we do.

Each time the HEARTT Foundation was able to come to Liberia, and we succeeded in caring for the sick or attending to the needy, we touched our own lives in profound ways. We feel a special sense of purpose, and I feel that I am giving back to a country I love and to a people who appreciates what we do. This is why we do this free of charge – and will continue to do so – without financial contributions from the Government of Liberia.

I returned to Liberia in August of this year to provide assistance to the JFK and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Even as I did, I also met with and urge lawmakers to increase focus on awareness. Privately, I also worked with other United States based medical professionals to set up "protocols" for identifying Ebola cases, and how best to avoid physical contacts.

While in Liberia, I discovered that there was something else I could also do. It became quite obvious that the greatest risk to fighting the disease was the lack of medical supplies and Personal Protective Equipments (PPE's) by which health care workers would reduce the risk of being infected. I could do something. I knew I could do something. And I did.

A few weeks ago, HEARTT’s donation of almost 70,000 pounds of medical supplies remained one of the largest and fastest response to the Ebola crisis in the country to date. Again, I may not be able to provide all that the country will need, but I will not stop trying until every health care worker has enough PPEs and other medical supplies to fight this disease.

This is what I meant when I said that by “remaining in the US, I could better serve and advocate” for Liberian health care workers and their patients. Today, the HEARTT Foundation spends more than 50% of its time, and I will continue to try - beg, if I must - to get PPEs to Liberia.

Finally, I come to Liberia three or four times every year. I do not intend to stop now. Along with volunteers, which we sponsor, I come to give back – to provide care for those who need it and simply cannot afford it. And I will continue to do so. I look forward to returning as soon as I can. As has always been the case, I will continue to do my best.

God bless Liberia.

Dr. J. Adamah Sirleaf,
jsirleaf@hearttfoundation.org  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.