'Integrity Idol' winner vows to use prize to train health workers in post-Ebola Liberia

MONROVIA, Feb 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The winner of Integrity Idol, a Liberian reality TV show, plans to use his prize money to train health workers as the country is still reeling from the world’s worst Ebola outbreak.

Pharmacist Bocakarie Sakilla beat 1,000 other contestants to win a $2,000 prize, presented to him by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

“I see it as a victory, especially for our pharmacist profession,” Sakilla told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“In Liberia, pharmacists are not known, they are always at the back... If you have a qualified person in the drug store, they will diagnose the case easily,” Sakilla said, dressed in a white coat in a pharmacy outside the capital Monrovia.

Integrity Idol asked the public to vote for the most honest civil servant as part of a drive to promote greater integrity in the West African country, blighted by accusations of corruption as it rebuilds after years of civil war.

Sakilla was part of a health team that tested whether an HIV drug could be used to treat Ebola, which killed more than 11,300 people as it swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Liberia was hardest hit as Ebola ravaged its fragile health system and killed about 4,800 people between 2014 and 2016.

Sakilla, who works in a government hospital in Tubmanburg in western Liberia’s Bomi County, was already paying school fees for four dispensing students before his victory in Integrity Idol, a show inspired by U.S. television singing competition American Idol.

“He’s my role model,” one of his students, Marina Kemmoh, said in a short video, which aired on local television ahead of the public vote, which was conducted online or via text message.

Sakilla has opened several pharmacies, where trained staff dispense quality medication, as a safer alternative to hawkers who sell drugs out of cardboard boxes on the street.

Fake and low-quality drugs are a problem in poor countries like Liberia as they often contain hazardous ingredients, are ineffective and create distrust in the health system.

Global corruption watchdog Transparency International this month ranked Liberia 90 out of 176 countries in its annual survey of public perceptions of corruption.

Johnson Sirleaf, who is due to replaced in October elections, promised to tackle corruption when she came to power in 2006 but has faced accusations of nepotism which she has denied. (Reporting by James Giahyue; Editing by Katy Migiro and Astrid Zweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit to see more stories.)