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Sierra Leone’s free health care policy sets to reduce maternal and child deaths

© courtesy IRIN/Palus
A woman and her daughter at UNICEF-supported government hospital in Makeni, Sierra Leone

Port Loko, Sierra Leone, 6 April 2010 – Gbassay, 2, is attending the peripheral health unit in Rosinta village, Port Loko District with her mother Fatmata. 

It is a routine health and growth monitoring check.  Gbassay checks in at 11.5 kilograms and a healthy growth for her age.

Fatmata paid Le 2,000 (about half a dollar) for her baby’s medical care which is the normal monthly charge mothers were asked to pay for children who are under the age of five. 

This can be a significant amount for many families who are already struggling support their children.

"I am a mother of nine but I lost five of them. Two died at birth and the others before they could reach their fifth birthday.  I spend a lot of money on hospital bills" explains Fatmata.

Sierra Leone has one of the highest child mortality indicators in the world. According to the recently released Demographic and Health Survey 2008, 140 out of every 1,000 children die before they reach their fifth birthday.

Reasons for this vary.  Late referral or reluctance to attend health facilities can often be attributed to the unofficial user fees that are currently being levied – which many in Sierra Leoneans, particularly in rural areas, cannot afford.  This is significant contributing factors to the country’s high rates of child and maternal mortality.  

The Ministry of Health and Sanitation has collaborated closely with UNICEF, UK Aid, the World Bank, WHO, UNFPA, Save the Children, Search for Common Grounds and civil society organizations to ensure that these unofficial fees can finally be abolished.

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.

One of the beneficiaries of the Free Health Care initiative will be Fatmata. "Sometimes pregnant women and nursing mothers refuse to come to the clinics because they have no money. It is a big problem.  I believe this Free Health Care will significantly reduce the number of women and children dying in the country."

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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