Healthcare in Sierra LeoneSierra Leone is a small nation located on the coast of West Africa. While the country boasts an abundance of natural resources, it is also a poor nation, with a healthcare system in dire need of improvement. Here are 9 facts about healthcare in Sierra Leone.

9 Facts About Healthcare in Sierra Leone

  1. Sierra Leone has one of the lowest life expectancies on the globe. In 2018, the average life expectancy in Sierra Leone was 54.3 years. This places the nation among the bottom five in the entire world. In comparison, the average global life expectancy is 72.6 years.

  2. Sierra Leone faces high rates of infant and maternal mortality. Similar to life expectancy, infant and maternal fatality rates help gauge the quality of a nation’s health care system. In 2015, 87.1 infants died per 1,000 births in Sierra Leone, while 1,360 mothers died per 100,000 births. In the U.S., just 5.4 infants died per 1,000 births, and only 14 mothers died for every 100,000 births. Birth-related deaths generally occur when there are delays in women seeking, reaching and receiving care.

  3. All people living in Sierra Leone are at risk of malaria. Malaria is endemic to the nation, and poses a great health risk. In fact, four out of every ten hospital visits in Sierra Leone are due to malaria. Children are at particular risk, and the disease contributes to the nation’s high number of child fatalities. However, rates of the illness are falling across the country due to preventative practices such as sleeping under insecticide treated nets. Earlier diagnoses and treatments also contribute to the lowered rates of illness. By the end of 2020, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone hopes to have decreased cases by 40 percent.

  4. The Ebola outbreak of 2014 hit Sierra Leone particularly hard. Despite its relatively small population, there were more cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone than any other country. To be exact, there were a total of 14,124 cases in the country, including nearly 4,000 deaths. The first case was reported in May 2014, and Sierra Leone was not declared Ebola-free until February 2016. According to the World Health Organization, the virus was able to spread so widely due to the weaknesses of the healthcare in Sierra Leone. These weaknesses included too few healthcare workers, not enough oversight and a lack of resources.

  5. Disabled residents face tough conditions. Approximately 450,000 disabled people live in Sierra Leone, including those who were maimed in the decade-long civil war that ended in 2002. The government does not currently provide any assistance to the disabled. Those with disabilities resort to begging on the streets of Freetown, the nation’s capital. Disabled youth turned away from their families (due to the family’s inability to support the youth) often form their own communities on the streets. Employment can also be hard to achieve due to discrimination. Julius Cuffie, a member of Parliament who suffers from polio, brings awareness to the disabled’s struggles. Hoping to bring the disabled’s issues to the forefront, Cuffie pushes for the Persons with Disabilities Act.

  6. Corruption exists in Sierra Leone’s healthcare system. According to a 2015 survey, 84 percent of Sierra Leoneans have paid a bribe just to use government services. Additionally, about a third of the funds given to fight the Ebola crisis are not accounted for. This translates to roughly 11 million pounds, or almost 14 million dollars. Sierra Leone has a literacy rate of about 40 percent. As a result, many health care services overcharge unknowing residents for basic services. A new initiative, put together by the nation’s Anti-Corruption Commission, advises residents to report cases of bribery.

  7. In 2010, Sierra Leone began offering free health care. The Free Healthcare Initiative (FHCI) aims to decrease the nation’s high maternal, infant and child mortality rate. The government also hopes the initiative improves general health across the country. The ordinance provides a package of free services for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under the age of five. The program has not been without its challenges, however, due to the aforementioned weaknesses of previous systems of health care in Sierra Leone. That said, the initiative has resulted in a number of positive changes. For example, there has been an increase in the number of healthcare staff, a larger willingness for parents to seek care for their children and a reduction in mortality for those under five.

  8. There has been an increase in efforts to strengthen emergency medical response in Sierra Leone. Road accidents kill thousands each year in the country. In response to this, the First Responder Coalition of Sierra Leone (FRCSL) was created in 2019 to improve the state of urgent medical care. Five national and international groups in Makeni, a city in northern Sierra Leone, founded the coalition. The group aims to provide emergency care, treat the high numbers of injuries and resolve the low amount of pre-hospital treatment in Sierra Leone. In its first two months, the FRSCL trained 1,000 Makeni residents, equipping each one with a first aid kit. The coalition hopes to train 3,500 more in the next six months. It also plans on expanding out of the northern province in the next five years. Hopefully, the FRCSL’s efforts will save thousands of lives from vehicle accidents in the coming years.

  9. CARE is working to improve sexual and reproductive health for women and girls in Sierra Leone. The humanitarian agency began working in the country in 1961. Goals of the organization include providing medical supplies and contraceptives, giving training to healthcare workers and working with the community to eliminate attitudes that prevent women from discovering their rights to sexual and reproductive health. CARE is currently present in approximately 30 percent of the country’s communities, particularly in areas that have high rates of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy. One Sierra Leonean mother, named Fanta, credits CARE with educating her about proper breastfeeding and health practices, leading to the survival and continued health of her daughter.

Healthcare in Sierra Leone is an issue that is complicated by the nation’s high rates of poverty, many endemic diseases and tumultuous political history. While shocking statistics, such as the country’s low life expectancy and high maternal and infant mortality rates paint a grim picture, there are signs of progress being made, and there is potential for much more change on the horizon.

– Joshua Roberts

Photo: Flickr