New bill of health for children under-five in Sierra Leone

More children under-five in Sierra Leone are receiving new bill of health through the Integrated Management of Newborn and Childhood Illnesses Strategy

Issa Davies
A nurse attends to a child at a health facility in Freetown.
15 April 2022

Freetown – As she walked briskly and entered the gates of the Hastings Community Health Centre in rural Freetown with her three and half year-old son, Marian Sheriff, a mother of two, heaved a sigh of relief. With cupped hands, she said: “thank God I am finally here, and my son’s health will be given the necessary care and attention.”

Marian’s son, Ishmael, had suddenly developed fever, laced with persistent bouts of coughing the previous night that had caused sleepless night for both mother and son. The next morning, she hurriedly took her son and trod the one-mile journey from their home to the nearest health centre in their community with high hopes that he will be given the required medical attention and regain his health.

As expected, Ishmael received the necessary medical care and attention from the nurses at the Hastings Community Health Centre through the Integrated Management of Newborn and Childhood Illnesses (IMNCI) approach that is part of the Saving Lives Programme which is being funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (formerly UK Aid) and facilitated by UNICEF.  

The IMNCI is an integrated health intervention delivery approach that is being led by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in collaboration with UNICEF that uses innovative ways to administer treatments, care and support to under-five children who are suffering from diseases such as malaria, acute respiratory infections pneumonia, diarrhoea, severe acute malnutrition, anaemia and other childhood diseases.

Women carry their children inside a health facility in Freetown
Together with other patients, Marian Sheriff waits in a queue for her son to receive treatment at the Hastings Community Health Centre

According to the District Health Information System report, about 6.7 million under-five children with cases of fever/malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea have benefited from the IMNCI services between 2019 and 2021 in Sierra Leone.

“In this IMNCI approach, we administer treatments according to the child’s age, weight and height which is different from the traditional method we were using to treat under five children”, said Elvis Samba, deputy head of the Hastings Community Health Centre. “With this, we are sure that children will regain their health quickly and if that is not forthcoming, we promptly refer them to tertiary hospitals for additional medical care and attention.”

“The IMNCI is a strategy aimed at reducing the alarming rates of under-five mortality in Sierra Leone which is one of the worst in the world,” said Hailemariam Legesse, Health Specialist at UNICEF Sierra Leone. “And over the past four years, we have facilitated the training of over 200 trainers, supervisors and mentors who in turn trained about 1,106 health workers from 1,100 primary health care facilities across the country on quality-of-care delivery using the IMNCI protocol.”

As Ishmael recovered after receiving three days of good treatment and follow up from the health workers at the health centre, he became vivacious and ran around the health centre’s courtyard with excitement, jumping and kicking whatever objects he encountered thereby putting smiles back on his mother’s face.

A nurse sits inside a health facility in Freetown
Nurse Isata Bah-Koroma consults the IMNCI chart booklet for proper guidance as she treats under-five children at the Hastings Community Health Centre.

“It was not easy for me at all” said Marian. “I have been bringing my son to this health centre for three consecutive days and each day he was administered with injections and oral doses of drugs, but I waited patiently, with high hopes that he will get well soon.”

Marian, who never misses out taking her children to the health centre whenever they fall sick, added that she became convinced that her son had fallen ill and must be taken to the health centre for treatment as soon as Ishmael became restive, lost appetite and developed high temperature the previous night.

Nurse Isata Bah-Koroma, the focal point for IMNCI services at the health centre said on average, they treat 20 under-five children a day and achieve almost 100 per cent success rate since they back treatments with regular follow up visits to them in the community.

“I am so happy that my son is now looking strong and healthy once more!” Marian exclaimed as she sang songs of praises to the health team for doing a wonderful job.