TCI: Good afternoon Dr. Njor. For the benefit of our readers, tell us briefly about yourself as well as your family history.
DR. NJOH: Thank you for asking me to say a few things about myself. I am head of Internal Medicine at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center and acting Chairman of the Faculty of Internal Medicine of the Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons. I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, of Nigerian parents. My high school was spent in Nigeria. I arrived in Liberia at the age of 21. And, it has been a long association with Liberia because from the age of 21, I did most of my education in this country. I attended Cuttington University College Divinity School which is now Cuttington University and then transferred to the University of Liberia where I finished my pre-medical studies before entering A. M. Dogliotti College of Medicine. I graduated from A. M. Dogliotti in 1975 at the top of my class. Thereafter, I worked with JFK for one year to do my internship and then spent nine months in Ganta Hospital for rural service. I was recalled back from Ganta to come and head the Catherine Mills Rehabilitation Hospital for psychiatric patients in September 1977 because the psychiatrist in Liberia, Dr. Elda T. Boe, had suddenly resigned and left the country. As a result, I was recalled to come and run the hospital. So, I ran the hospital from September 1977 to June 1978. In July 1978, I left for England to do specialist training in Internal Medicine. When I finished the training, I came back to Liberia to teach. Later I went to Nigeria where I taught for two years. While I was there, I was requested by the Dean of the Medical School in Liberia to return and help at the Medical School. So, I came back to Liberia in 1987. I taught in Liberia up to the outbreak of the civil war. When the war came, I was the last doctor to leave JFK on July 2, 1990. The late Dr. Brumskine and I were the last two doctors to leave the premises of this hospital. I left the country with my family because of the war. I then traveled to Britain. From Britain, I traveled to Saudi Arabia where I spent ten years and then came back to Nigeria and rested for some time and then I was requested to return to Liberia to come and help at the JFK, at the medical school and the Liberia School of Physicians and Surgeons. I have been going back and forth. I got married in 1981 to a wonderful Liberian lady and we have four children. They were born here but are presently in North America. So, that’s my story.
TCI:Tell us a little bit about your time at the Catherine Mills Center. What was it like considering the fact that you are an internist dealing with mental health issues?
DR. NJOH: It was a very rewarding experience for me because although I had been to Catherine Mills before, I was eventually posted there. I went there the first time as a medical student. I worked there for about eight to nine months because the specialist there resigned and left the country. In those eight to nine months, I had the privilege of taking care of many patients who had mental illness. Mental illness is common in African countries. That is partly because a lot of people leave rural areas and move on to urban centers where they encounter all sorts of trauma. Some of those things are pleasant, while some are not so pleasant. That causes severe emotional problems that result to mental instability. So, my experience there was very rewarding because I was able to take care of people with psychiatric problems.
TCI:How did you come to be head of Internal Medicine at the John F. Kennedy Hospital?
DR. NJOH: I became head of the Internal Medicine Department in 2014 after Dr. Abraham Borbor passed away due to Ebola. I came to actually assist Dr. Borbor. He was the only internist in Liberia. He was thinking about starting a postgraduate specialist training. That could not be done with just one person. So, I was requested to come out of retirement to come and help him. Unfortunately, I now find myself saddled with the responsibility that the younger person carried. He was much younger than I was. So, sometimes, I feel the weight of the responsibility he left behind.
TCI:Working at JFK as an Internist, you meet people with internal illnesses and some of them will not believe that they have the kind of illnesses that they are diagnosed of. What are some of the internal illnesses that usually come to JFK that you have to explain to people?
DR. NJOH: One of the commonest problems that we have in Africa and in most cases we don’t know that we have is high blood pressure. High blood pressure is so common among black people here and in the Western World- the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. Unfortunately, in Africa and Liberia, vast majorities of our people are uneducated. People are unaware that they have high blood pressure. Hence, they keep going around and drinking and doing all sorts of things until one day suddenly the person collapses in the street or on the job. When such person is rushed to the hospital and he/she is diagnosed to be having pressure, they would seem to be unaware that they have high blood pressure. That is one of the commonest problems that we have that people are not aware of.
TCI: Kidney and liver for example, we don’t have the requisite equipment to treat these people. You have taken an oath to care for people. What is it like for you in case you are not able to help someone with this problem?
DR. NJOH: Well, it will surprise you to know that one of the commonest reasons why we have kidney problem in Africa is high blood pressure. When you have high blood pressure for a long time that is not treated, partly because you are unaware, it may begin to affect the kidney- that is in addition to affecting the heart and brain. So, that way, the kidney fails because of that. Now, it is not in all cases that we are helpless when the kidney is not functioning properly- sometimes we institute measures that can help people live longer. But when the kidney fails completely and there is nothing else we can do, we can still advise the individual on what to do to help him or her at least prolong life for a while.
TCI: What would make your job easier?
DR. NJOH: What will help us is, and that is actually what JFK is close to doing: we received some guests from Japan not long ago- they were Japanese doctors and businessmen wanting to help us set up a kidney and dialysis unit. For that reason, Dr. Borbor and some nurses were sent to Japan to be trained and come back and set up the unit. Unfortunately, life is very mysterious because sometimes, the things you don’t plan for happen. Ebola came and Dr. Borbor succumbed to the Ebola crisis. He was the only one that was trained for this project. So now, we met with the group of Japanese doctors and businessmen who came to visit here a few weeks ago. As a result, we are now preparing to send another person to Japan to be trained and when that person comes back, we will set up a kidney unit that will help people with kidney problems.
TCI:So, what do you envisage over the next few years for that unit? How do you see JFK becoming after these training shall have been concluded?
DR. NJOH: I imagine that within the next two years, we would have sent four doctors, and nurses to be trained on how to manage the equipment. The Japanese people have agreed to help us set it up. We will be able to help people with kidney failure. But everything has to go step by step. The first step is to send people to go and train- primarily doctors and nurses because they are the main caregivers. Technicians may also go to learn how to take care of the equipment.
TCI:Dr. Njor, the kidney and the liver are all internal organs which need sophisticated machines to scan for proper diagnosis. Is there any chance for Liberia to acquire an MRI machine?
DR. NJOH: There is an ongoing attempt to get a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) for JFK. That attempt has reached an advanced stage. I am aware that in fact an agreement has been signed that would make it possible for JFK to have an MRI machine. It will be state of the art. It is very expensive. Definitely, if we get it, it will help us in many areas. But MRI is not the number one priority. The number one priority would be that you have simple drugs to treat people. If you don’t have simple drugs to treat people but you have MRI, people would then ask you where your priority is.
TCI: What is the JFK really doing in terms of service delivery?
DR. NJOH: JFK started not just as a mere a hospital for treating patients; not just as a hospital for treating sick people. JFK actually started with multiple roles. I would say JFK is unique in the health care delivery system of Liberia because it started with multiple roles right from the beginning. It is not an accident that when JFK opened its doors in July 1971, at the same time, medical students came here to start training to become doctors. It was something that was pre-planned by government. The medical school opened in 1968, August. And by 1971 when JFK opened, medical students were ready to come in here to study. The first set of medical students came in July of 1971 from A. M. Dogliotti College of Medicine. The medical college opened a few years earlier in order to prepare students to start training in hospital because when you enter medical school, you spend the first two years or so in class. Then from the third year, you move into hospital. So, the training process coincided with the opening of the hospital. In fact, I saw President Tubman open this hospital in 1971.
TCI: What has been your greatest moment at JFK?
DR. NJOH: My greatest moment was the day I finished medical school because I come from a family that is very poor and I never thought that I would someday become a doctor. My parents never thought that one of their children would become a doctor. And so, when I graduated in 1975, it was something that gave me tremendous joy- not so much for myself but for my parents who never thought it was possible. That is one of the reasons why anytime someone asks me to come and help in Liberia, I don’t hesitate to come back. This is either the second or third time coming back.
On the overall, JFK started with many roles: train nurses, midwives, radiographers, medical students to become doctors. And in 2012, this hospital began training doctors to become specialists. We are yet to produce the first set of specialists but we are training doctors to become specialists. We are also doing research that has allowed us to know a lot about diseases in Liberia than anyone would know in the history of this country because of the research we have done.
TCI: What do you intend to do with this research now?
DR. NJOH: We intend to disseminate the information to the public and advise them accordingly to prevent diseases. With the right support, we will ensure that JFKMC lives up to its core mandate of providing critical healthcare, training healthcare workers and conducting valuable research.