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Tribute to the Late Dr. Abraham Borbor

Today, I mourn Dr. Abraham Borbor. No life is more important than another, but the contribution of some people to society makes their passing more painful and devastating than others. That is the case of Dr. Abraham Borbor, who passed last evening from Ebola that he contracted while battling to save the late Dr. Brisbane from Ebola. Dr. Borbor was one of those rare breed of doctors trained during the civil conflict who specialized and returned not only to offer services, but to teach at the medical school and mentor young medical doctors.

Following the end of the civil war when Liberia had only 23 Liberian doctors, the worry in the medical community was how were we, as a nation, going to replenish that cadre of health professionals, given the time it takes to train a doctor – at least 9 years after high school, just to get the general medicine degree, and another 3-5 years for clinical specialties. One thought was to get foreign doctors from the region, but given the instability in Liberia at the time, and the low salaries on offer, that was not very likely to succeed. The second was to get retired, but still very resourceful and energetic Liberia doctors who had left as a result of the civil conflict, and were willing to return. This has had a fairly high level of success thus far, with many of them making valuable contributions, especially in training the next generation of doctors. The third was to encourage actively practicing diaspora Liberians to return. This has been tried – still being tried – but it has not worked out at all! Many of our compatriots in this category simply cannot cope with the reality on the ground – low salary ($500-1, 500 monthly), no running water or power supply, schools for their kids, etc., - and they often demand high salaries – understandably - and tend to condemn and complain about everything, including a condescending attitude towards their compatriots who “stayed on the ground”, but that’s a discussion for another day. The most many of them can afford is to make short trips to the country and train – highly appreciated! – but they must return to the States and elsewhere to carry on with their careers. Understandably, this option is not practical for training medical students, notwithstanding the goodwill of colleagues in this category.

The final option was to train Liberians who had remained at home, provide opportunities for them to train in other African or non-western countries – South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, Thailand, India, Mali, etc., - especially for clinical specialties, with the view of them returning to contribute to the rebuilding process. This seemed like a long route at the time, but has proven to be the most successful and sustainable option. Several of these clinical and public health specialists are home now providing services and contributing towards the rebuilding of Liberia’s health system. Dr. Borbor belonged to this category. His role in training and mentoring young medical undergraduate and postgraduate students was pivotal in the future of health care delivery in Liberia. The impact of his contribution will continue to be manifested for years to come through those he trained and worked with.

Ask his classmates, colleagues, teachers, patients, and students, and you will hear almost the same thing: Dr. Borbor was a decent, disciplined, dedicated, fair, focused, and hardworking professional. His passing has left a big gap in the nation’s training program, one that is not likely to be filled anytime soon. Today, I mourn a friend, colleague, compatriot, uncle – all Kissi people are uncles to Lorma people – and decent human being. May his soul rest in peace!

James Tanu Duworko, MD, M.Sc. 
FP/RH Advisor
USAID Uganda