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Health workers are crucial to the success of Sierra Leone’s free health care initiative

© UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2009/Davies
Vandy, health worker hopes for better conditions of service for health workers

Port Loko, Sierra Leone, 6 April 2010 – Vandy Kormoh is a community health officer in Petifu village in Port Loko District.  He has been in charge of the village’s health post for the past three years.

Providing medical assistance to the community however remains a real challenge.

The health post lacks the basic essential drugs and equipment required to treat pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five and the health post building itself remains dilapidated and unsanitary. 

The challenge of a healthy environment
"At night the building is taken over by bats which create unhygienic and uncomfortable situations for patients the next day. It’s a real challenge to provide medical care" he explains.

Amidst these challenges, Vandy is determined to continue his efforts to save the lives of women and children in his community.

"I will not run away from my community when there is a problem, I am here to provide the best medical care I can", he explains.

Vandy’s salary of Le 150,000 (around $40) is just about enough to buy a 50 kilogram sack of rice to feed his family of eight. He often struggles to meet the nutritional, education and health needs of his children.

Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal and child mortality indicators in the world. According to the recently released Demographic and Health Survey 2008, maternal and child mortality rates stand at 856 out of 100,000 and 89 out of 1,000 live births respectively.

© UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2009/Davies
Petifu Community Health Centre in Sierra Leone

Out of every 1,000 children, 140 die before their fifth birthday

On the 27th April 2010 (Sierra Leone’s 49th Independence Anniversary), President Earnest Bai Koroma will declare a Free Health Care policy for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five.

This means that all service fees, drugs and treatments for these categories of people will be abolished in every public health facility across the country.

The Free Health Care initiative is set to benefit 1.2 million mothers and children across the country.

The Ministry of Health and Sanitation is working closely with UNICEF, UK Aid, World Bank, WHO, UNFPA, Save the Children, Search for Common Grounds and civil society organizations to ensure this initiative is made a success. 

The critical commitment of health workers
This includes measures to make sure health care workers like Vandy receive a livable wage. 

"Health workers are crucial to the success of this initiative. I think our workload will increase substantially" explains Vandy, "there will be an avalanche of pregnant women, mothers and under-fives attending the hospitals and clinics when the Free Health Care initiative is launched."

"We will certainly need to have access to the essential drugs and equipment in order for us to provide treatment," Vandy explains.

UNICEF and UK Aid have procured $7 million worth of drugs and medical consumables which are currently being delivered to various health facilities across the country.

It is hoped that the improvement in salaries, medicine and equipment availability will lead to a drastic reduction in the country’s serious maternal and child mortality rates.

By Issa Davies

Learn more on the Free health care policy:
Free health care policy
Essential services provided by Free Health Care
Free health care - position paper
Free Health care - Q&A

 

 
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