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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Safe water for new mothers: Upgrading Sierra Leone’s health centres

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2017/Mason
A girl washes her hands at the Konta Line Community Health Centre in Sierra Leone.

In a country with some of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality, water and sanitation improvements at health centres are preventing infections and saving lives.

By Harriet Mason

KONTA LINE, Sierra Leone, 22 March 2018 – At least by West African standards, it’s a chilly morning in the small town of Konta Line, Sierra Leone. But several women and children – and some men – have braved the cold to get to the local health centre to access medical care.

When they arrive, the first thing they do was previously out of the question – they wash their hands at the entrance. Just a year ago, the centre had no water or sanitation facilities.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2017/Mason
A woman washes her hands at a newly constructed WASH facility at the Konta Line Community Health Centre. Just last year there were no handwashing stations at the centre.

Reducing mother and child deaths

“We used to struggle a lot to fetch water to wash the equipment and clean the centre, especially the delivery room,” says Fatmata Conteh, midwife at the Konta Line Community Health Centre. “This was really frustrating especially during the dry season when the water level of the only well we relied on went down. We had to go to the streams outside the facility to find water.”

The facility where nurse Fatmata works serves a population of more than 7,100 people across 27 villages, attending to an average of 450 people a month. Over half of them are children under the age of five.

Sierra Leone has some of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the world. The absence of safe water, functioning toilets and handwashing stations in health centres amplifies the risk of infection among women and children, especially in centres like this one that serve a large population.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2017/Mason
Isatu Conteh sits with her husband and baby. She has given birth at the Konta Line Community Health Centre both before and after the renovations. “This time I didn’t have to take a tough walk to the stream to bathe and wash my baby’s clothes," she says.

A new look

As part of the wider ‘Saving Lives Programme’ funded by UK aid, UNICEF partner Sierra Leone Social Aid Volunteers (SLSAV) has installed modern toilets, a laundry, an incinerator, a placenta pit, a water well and a water supply system in line with the country’s new standards and guidelines. UNICEF and partners have provided similar support to 175 health centres across the country so far.

“Now we can easily clean the health facility and wash all our equipment here. Mothers have access to convenient toilets and water in the bathroom to have a bath after delivery,” says Fatmata. “The soap and bucket of water available at each entrance of the facility instantly reminds patients to wash their hands when they come here.”

Isatu Conteh, a resident of Konta Line has given birth twice the centre over the past two years. “The place looks very different now compared with when I first came to give birth,” says Isatu. “This time I didn’t have to take a tough walk to the stream to bathe and wash my baby’s clothes. I am really happy with the facilities.”

Midwife Fatmata is also positive. “The facilities have helped enhance my job. Now, I can concentrate more on caring for patients as I don’t have to waste time trying to fetch water or finding a safe place to dispose of waste.”

Read next: Ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone



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