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

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora