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UNICEF Bringing $7 Million in Drugs to Sierra Leone

Before Sierra Leone's April 27 launch of free health care for pregnant women and children under five, the United Nations Children's Fund is stockpiling $7 million worth of medicine.

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In one month's time, the country will launch an ambitious plan to provide free health care to lactating and pregnant women and children under five, in an attempt to reduce maternal and child mortality in the country.

Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Lack of essential drugs to keep pregnant women and young children healthy is a major hurdle to providing comprehensive care.

Lianne Kuppens leads UNICEF's child survival and development team in Sierra Leone. She says the drugs are essential, if some of the people in the country is to achieve real free health care.

"The drugs, which are worth around $7 million, are in line with the national essential drugs," she said. "It is a list which has been made with all the stakeholders in support of the government. And, it is covering diseases like diarrhea, like malaria, like pneumonia, all the basic diseases that people face and then, of course, we try to address the most vulnerable among all of them."

The drugs will also address conditions such as diabetes and hypertension that put pregnant women at risk for complications during pregnancy.

Kuppens says the drugs are expected to last for six months.

Kuppens says one of the biggest challenges to providing free health care is making sure appropriate medicines are available at the village-level, across the country. There are few depositories to properly store the drugs

The drugs will be distributed by UNICEF directly from the port to district health units, which will then supply rural health facilities.

In March, Sierra Leone's former health minister was convicted under the country's anti-corruption laws, in a procurement scandal involving bids to provide the ministry with chemicals.

The British Department for International Development is funding the procurement of the drug stockpile, as part of their $51 million support of Sierra Leone's free health care initiative.