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

Photogallery Kyiv: Russian Forces Tightening Grip on East

And new United Nations report documents human rights abuses committed by both sides in conflict More

Locust Swarms Fill Antananarivo Skies

FAO-led control efforts halted plague More

South Africa’s Plan to Move Rhinos May Not Stop Poaching

Experts say international coordination needed to follow the money trail and bring down rhino horn kingpins 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.
Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Weeki
X
August 29, 2014 2:18 AM
The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid