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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone announces free health care for mothers and children

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2010/Asselin
Seybatu Koroma rides a UNICEF-supported motorcycle ambulance on her way to a hospital in Bonthe, Sierra Leone.

By Issa Davies

BONTHE DISTRICT, Sierra Leone, 27 April 2010 – Sabatu Koroma, 28, groaned as she lay helplessly on the stretcher of the motorcycle ambulance. She had just arrived at the United Brethren in Christ Hospital in Mattru Jong – a fishing village in Sierra Leone’s Bonthe district – where she was rushed following complications with her pregnancy.

Ms. Koroma's baby had been still-born at home in her village. After a more than 10-hour labour, the placenta was caught in the mother's womb.

A long journey and high costs

It took two hours to make the 25-km journey to the hospital. First, Ms. Koroma was carried on hammock by neighbours to the main road leading to Mattru Jong. Then she was placed on a rickety ferry made of logs before the motorbike ambulance carried her along the dusty and unpaved road to the hospital.

Nurses and paramedics rushed Ms. Koroma to the operating room when she arrived at the hospital. Because there are no blood banks in the area, she was administered two units of blood donated by her sister. The care she received at the hospital ensured that she would survive.

After two days, she was discharged along with a bill for $50 – a significant sum for a mother of four living in one of Sierra Leone’s poorest rural areas.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2010/Asselin
Seybatu Koroma is greeted by her husband as she returns from the hospital to her village in western Sierra Leone.

Abolishing medical fees

Out of eight births, four of Ms. Koroma’s children had died before the age of five – but this was her first still birth. Lack of money had forced her to deliver at home. She was also unable to attend the recommended ante-natal clinics because of their relatively high cost.

Ms. Koroma’s case is not uncommon. Sierra Leone has maternal and child mortality rates that are among the highest in the world. According to the latest UNICEF data, a woman’s risk of maternal death in Sierra Leone is about one in eight over the course of her life. Nearly one out of every five children dies before reaching his or her fifth birthday.

Sierra Leone’s President, Ernest Bai Koroma, has announced a free health-care policy for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children who under five. The policy will abolish fees paid for medical attention and provide drugs and treatments free of charge in every public health facility in the country. Around 1.2 million mothers and children are expected to benefit from the new policy this year alone.

Practical support

UNICEF is supporting the abolition of medical fees by continuing to provide essential drugs across Sierra Leone. It contributes supplies to address malaria, diarrhoea, vaccine-preventable diseases and malnutrition among children under five, as well as ante-natal and post-natal drugs to support maternal health.

In addition, the agency provides hospitals with motorcycle ambulances – just like the one that rushed Ms. Koroma to the hospital in Mattru Jong. "This ambulance has saved my life," Ms. Koroma said.



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