News / Africa

Sierra Leone's Free Maternal Care Eludes Many

Pregnant women watch television as they wait in the pre-natal ward at Princess Christian Maternity Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, September 10, 2010.
Pregnant women watch television as they wait in the pre-natal ward at Princess Christian Maternity Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, September 10, 2010.
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — Up until two years ago, the maternal death rate in Sierra Leone was the highest in the world with 1 in 8 women dying during pregnancy or giving birth. That is when the Ministry of Health and Sanitation introduced free health care for lactating and pregnant women and children under the age of five. Despite successes, women are still having trouble accessing care in Sierra Leone.
 
Nurses tend to patients in the general hospital in the town of Makeni, in the northern part of Sierra Leone. The government began offering free healthcare to women and children at all government run health facilities two years ago. Since then, women from rural areas have flocked to health centers to take advantage of the services.
 
Money to run the program so far has cost about $40 million, with most of it coming from donors such as the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.  And the U.N. notes the program has produced success in a short time - such as cutting mortality rates in children and women by half.
 
The free health care program is supposed to cover all health-related expenses for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five years of age. This includes all medication, services such as referrals, consultations and formal visits, surgery, and ambulance service.
 
But Amnesty International's 2012 report on Sierra Leone and the free health initiative, says many women continue to pay for essential drugs, despite the free care policy.
 
Adama Koroma is one of them. She says a nurse asked her to pay for her baby daughter's medication at the hospital in Makeni.
 
"They told me that they don't have those drugs, to buy those drugs on my own," said Koroma. "But I didn't have money, so I had to come home and sell some of my things."
 
And women in rural areas face even more challenges accessing the health system. Koroma says poor roads make it hard for many women she knows to get from their villages to the Makeni hospital or a health center.
 
When she was in labor, Koroma tried to make the six-mile trek to the nearest health center. She wound up delivering her baby in the bush with the help of her aunt despite the fact that the program should have offered an ambulance service.
 
 "The road was so bad I could not reach a motor vehicle to help me reach on time," she said.
 
Fatmata Kanneh, head of the maternity unit at the Makeni hospital, says there have been some noticeable improvements since the free health care program was introduced such as a reliable supply of certain medications.
 
"We always have emergency drugs, especially in [the] maternity unit, even children under five are getting their treatment," said Kanneh. "We have blood in [the] blood bank for emergencies."
 
There are different problems for women in the cities. In the capital, Freetown, patients note that free health care does not mean available healthcare.
 
Here at the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital, or PCMH, Hawa Lanai says she and her one-year-old son Mohamed have been turned away four times from the hospital because there hasn't been a doctor to see them.
 
"The patients are so many," said Lanai. "He can't see to all of them at times - even now when I'm coming he is not even in."
 
Sierra Leone's Minister of Health and Sanitation, Zainab Hawa Bangura, says the government is looking for solutions to some of these problems, caused mainly by a huge increase in demand for service.  She notes that before the free program was introduced, staff at the PCMH saw about 800 women a year. Since then, the number has risen to about 12,000 women.
 
"The challenge we also have is human resource, it takes seven years to train a doctor, it takes time to produce professional staff," said Bangura.
 
Amnesty International notes other issues - such as lack of monitoring, misuse of medication and no avenue to report problems in the system.  
 
Bangura says the government is also working to address these issues. She says a new system will soon be put into place where women in rural areas will serve as watchdogs over health centers in their community. Each woman will be given a cell phone which connects them to a main call center in Freetown to report violations.
 
"So her job every day, is to visit facility and if staff not there, drugs not there, she will file a complaint and we'll take action against staff," she said.

Meanwhile, women who should be able to access free care at government health centers are instead heading to the Greatest Goal health clinic run by an American non-governmental organization. Its lab and care facilities are better stocked and staffed.

You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More