Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone

Maternal mortality may not be a constant fear of yours if you think about pregnancy. However, this threat has not been eliminated in many parts of the world. Simply because developed countries have significantly decreased this issue with medical advances, many women in various regions must contend with this terrible plight. Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone, specifically, is still considered to be of high risk and something women should consider prior to pregnancy.

The Most Dangerous Place to Become a Mother

The most dangerous place in the world to become a mother, in fact, is Sierra Leone. This country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates globally. Around every one in 17 pregnancies end in the death of the mother- an overly alarming statistic. An endeavor that is supposed to be filled with joy and excitement is now clouded with fear as mothers worry about their health instead of being able to focus on their babies. This worry is not one experienced globally: Sierra Leone women are 300 to 400 times more likely to die with each pregnancy in comparison to women in Sweden, Finland, and other high-income countries.

Factors That Contribute to Higher Rates of Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone

Postpartum hemorrhaging has accounted for 32% of deaths along with bleeding, hypertension, abortions, obstructed labor, and infections. Hemorrhaging is problematic because a blood transfusion is required immediately to resolve the issue. However, when a woman gives birth at a local clinic, it can take hours to transport her to a hospital for the procedure. Unfortunately, many women bleed to death while waiting. However, most of these conditions can be treated with the correct healthcare, but due to extreme poverty, an overwhelming percentage of families do not have access to the necessary care.  This has resulted in unnecessary deaths.

Another significant factor that contributes to higher maternal mortality rates is that women in low-income countries tend to have more children. As a result, this increases their risk of complications. On average, women in Sierra Leone have five children, which, is considerably high when looking at countries like the United States whose average is 1.73 children. More children typically mean earlier pregnancies. In a 2016 report, researchers found 20% of deaths were girls ages 15 to 19 years old; a grim statistic especially when considering a 15-year-old is three times more likely to die during childbirth than a 22-year-old.

The Good News

Although the facts appear troubling, all hope is not lost. The United Nations has recognized maternal mortality as a serious issue. Thus, it has begun to combat the risk of death during pregnancy and the six weeks that follow.

The UN agency called the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) has started supporting midwifery through three government-run schools that graduate 150 students each year to tackle the high mortality rates. This alone will not improve the situation, as the majority of women in Sierra Leone already have midwives. It should result in better outcomes as these midwives will be better trained and even more common.

The UNFPA also focuses on family planning which reduces mortality by 25 to 30%. This UN organization provides 90% of the country’s forms of contraception through an annual $3 million budget. They estimated that from 2015 to 2017 this service prevented 4,500 maternal deaths and 570,000 unplanned pregnancies.

Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone may be among the highest rates in the world, but the country is taking imperative steps to diminish the risks, steps that have been working thus far. By 2023, UNFPA hopes that they can reduce adolescent births to 75 per 1,000. This, in turn, will massively decrease maternal mortality.

Victoria Mangelli
Photo: Flickr

FGM in Sierra Leone
People in Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia frequently practice the archaic custom of female circumcision or female genital cutting. The act involves the cutting away of the external genitalia from young girls for non-medical reasons and often results in severe pain, bleeding, infections, and in the most severe cases, death. Moreover, victims of female genital mutilation also frequently suffer from fertility issues, pregnancy and childbirth complications and mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorders, that inhibit their individuality and sexuality throughout their youth. Female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone remains a common practice throughout the country as only 10% of Sierra Leonean women have been able to evade the tradition. Here is some information about FGM in Sierra Leone.

The Social Norm

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 140 million girls and women worldwide have experienced female genital mutilation as the practice has become so heavily integrated into the patterns of the societies they live in; the custom is often essential in traditional initiation rites and marriage rituals, and because these societies are highly patriarchal, girls have no choice but to undergo FGM due to their male counterparts dictating it. Additionally, many also view female genital mutilation as a symbol of status and honor to families, making it a social norm that girls have no choice but to abide by. Two million young girls are at risk of female genital mutilation every year as this archaic tradition lives on.

Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is one of the 28 countries in Africa where female genital mutilation is a common practice to this day. The practice, which an elderly female figure in Sierra Leonean villages typically performs, occurs in unsafe and unsterile environments. Female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone often happens without proper medical equipment; elderly women perform this operation with razor blades, penknives and even shards of broken glass without receiving any training on any medical practices. With these women severely uneducated about the gross human anatomy yet performing dangerous procedures without the proper tools, girls end up in dangerous health conditions where they experience laceration and infection without medicine to offer relief. UNICEF estimates that nearly 90% of all Sierra Leonean women have suffered genital mutilation.

FGM in Sierra Leone is particularly dangerous for young girls who are in poverty and live in poor and rural villages. Individuals in poverty are more vulnerable to the most unsafe conditions when undergoing female genital mutilation as they have little to no access to monetary means to acquire the necessary medical supplies during and after the mutilation. Moreover, classism plays a significant role in this archaic practice as more affluent families are able to afford a private medical professional to perform the procedure safely while impoverished girls must fend for themselves.

A Brighter Future

Because female genital mutilation is a practice inherently ingrained in the Sierra Leonean culture, attempting to pervade the custom is a difficult task. However, one may find a brighter future in the women who had once undergone this archaic practice. The Amazonian Initiative Movement is a nongovernmental organization in West Africa that campaigns to ban FGM in Sierra Leone and neighboring countries. Rugiatu Turay created it in 2002 with women who met in a refugee camp in Guinea during the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone. As the organization’s leaders themselves have experienced the horrors of female genital mutilation and the abuses of societal patriarchy, the activists have long searched for a resolution and discovered that the strongest combatants against the tradition are education and literacy.

With an estimated 66% of the Sierra Leonean population illiterate and 60% living beneath the poverty line, education and gender equality campaigns directed towards young girls have become some of the best ways to resist female genital mutilation. Moreover, the initiative offers a safe house for young girls who are fleeing from domestic abuse, forced marriage and genital mutilation where they can live, become educated and learn how to provide for themselves independently. The Amazonian Initiative Movement has empowered young women so that they may be capable of making their own choices with their bodies with the hopes of one day eliminating the dangerous practice of female genital mutilation throughout West Africa.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr

How the Maternal Mortality Rate is Decreasing in Sierra LeoneThe capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, is historically known for being a home for freed slaves during the transatlantic slave trade, giving Sierra Leone a prominent place in history. However, the small west African country boarding Guinea has faced many adversities. One is the significant increase in adolescent pregnancies and fertility being some of the highest in the world. Women in Sierra Leone have “a one in 17 lifetime chance of dying during pregnancy, delivery or its aftermath.” This article will discuss the main reasons for the decreasing maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone.

Data Behind the Mortality Rate in Sierra Leone

For the government of Sierra Leone, keeping a consistent record of deaths was nearly nonexistent during the Ebola outbreak. According to an article by Financial Times, Dr. Sesay, who is “the government’s director of reproductive and child health,” conducts the government’s response to the maternal deaths. According to Dr. Sesay, procedures are set out to lower the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone. “We’ve put in place a maternal death surveillance and response team, and developed a technical guideline. When a death is reported, they go and confirm.”

Part of the surveillance is ensuring that reporting the deaths is imperative. This requires health workers within communities to report the deaths to major health facilities. Furthermore, this is vital to decreasing the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone as it ensures that all families are accounted for and not misrepresented in the sample population. However, the same health workers reporting the data are the same ones attempting to save these expectant mothers’ lives, which stretches on the ground workers.

Looking at the Numbers

Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone had reached 1,070 deaths between January to June of 2020. According to a report by the ministry of health and sanitation in Sierra Leone, from January to March of 2020, there was a total of 581 maternal deaths. And from April to June of 2020, the total was 489 maternal deaths.

Equally as important, the predominant reference of data for maternal deaths is CRVS (Civil Registration and Vital Statistics). The issue is that Sierra Leone doesn’t recognize this system of data reporting. When this occurs, other data systems are created, such as surveys and various studies, which leaves more room for inaccurate information. The organizations the World Health Organization, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, the United Nations Population Fund and the World Bank Group have collectively concluded that not all deaths can be recorded due to “systematic error.” Meaning the data presented won’t be accurate due to the actual number being lower or higher and this will impact how the maternal mortality rate is decreasing in Sierra Leone.

However, when using CRVS, “records will be systematically lower than the true number because there will always be deaths that go unreported. This is referred to as a systematic error.” Along with systematic error, there is the possibility of “random error,” meaning when a health worker records inaccurate information. This increases the inaccuracy of maternal deaths in Sierra Leone. Considering health workers are underpaid and overworked, random error is present when recording maternal deaths.

How to Improve Maternal Mortality Rate Efforts

There are multiple ways of decreasing the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone. However, today’s most beneficial way is by increasing and encouraging education for traditional birth attendants (TBAs). Undergoing childbirth for many women in Sierra Leone in the past meant being at home and having a TBA present. Usually, a TBA is an elderly woman from within the community and is often referred to as “auntie” or “mother.” Although this may sound beneficial and comfortable, such as having a midwife or doula, according to the government, TBAs were the primary reason for the country’s maternal deaths.

If patients were to have any complications during delivery, the TBA would inform the patient that emergency transportation would take too long to arrive and going to the nearest clinic would take too much time. In most cases, patients would bleed out as healthcare officials would arrive too late. The government attempted to resolve this issue by ratifying a law in 2010 forbidding TBAs to assist in deliveries outside of a clinical environment. If a TBA and anyone else taking part in the process, including the expectant mother, were caught defying this law they would face extreme retribution.

Established in 2001, the non-governmental organization IsraAID is working towards providing “emergency and long-term development settings in 50 plus countries.” The organization also has a medical care program that targets “reproductive health,” along with expanding educational opportunities. For the maternal mortality rate to decrease, the government of Sierra Leone has to establish effective maternal mortality reporting data and education for TBAs.

—Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

Vlogbrothers’ Partners In Health
John Green and Hank Green, known as “the Vlogbrothers,” started a YouTube channel in 2007 called Brotherhood 2.0. It was a place for the two brothers to talk to each other through daily videos in hope of bonding. Over 10 years later, the Vlogbrothers have gained a 3-million-strong community based around learning and activism. The Green brothers also use their platform to put their own words into action. They host a Project For Awesome event each year that sends donations to charities are based on the number of viewers. Now, the Vlogbrothers’ Partners In Health partnership aims to increase access to maternal health care for women in Sierra Leone.

The Challenges in Sierra Leone

The situation in Sierra Leone has reached a crisis level. The country is in deep poverty with 60% of its citizens below the national poverty line. The beautiful terrain suffers from natural disasters and unpredictable weather patterns, which harms food production. The country struggles with health issues. There is limited access to even basic health care, a lack of clean drinking water and outbreaks of deadly diseases. A specific group that is suffering is mothers.

Sierra Leone is a deadly country for mothers to give birth. It has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world — over 300,000 mothers died from childbirth in 2015 alone. Sierra Leonean mothers die of easily preventable causes, such as hemorrhaging, lack of refrigeration for blood transfusions, unsanitary tools due to lack of clean water or lack of ambulances.

Green Brother’s Trip to Sierra Leone

In the video “The Only Psychiatric Hospital in Sierra Leone,” John Green discussed his journey to Sierra Leone’s only mental health hospital. This is a country with a population of over 7 million people. Green noted that there was no electricity, water or lighting within the hospital. The infrastructure was crumbling and the medicine cabinet had been close to empty for years. With the help of Partners In Health, a generator was able to provide the hospital with electricity, better infrastructure and hundreds of medicines for patients. Most patients that go into the psychiatric ward are now able to walk out and live healthy lives.

In 2019, John Green uploaded “Why We’re Donating 6,500,000.” In the video, he discussed the trip to Sierra Leone and told the story of a minimum wage health care worker called Ruth. Her job involves identifying women who are at high risk during pregnancy. While with Ruth, Green noticed her slip $2 in her patient’s pocket. She had wanted to make sure her child could eat that day. Green reminded his viewers that “It required far more sacrifice and compassion for Ruth to make that donation than it does for our [Hank and John’s] families to make this one.”

He went on to announce a Vlogbrothers’ Partners In Health five-year partnership. He outlined the plans to raise $25 million to supply health care facilities, workers and staff with adequate support. Green hopes that the Vlogbrothers’ Partners In Health work will decrease the odds of maternal death.

The Vlogbrothers Road to $25 million

Since 2007, the Vlogbrothers have hosted an annual Project For Awesome event. It is a 48-hour fundraising event where the money goes to “decreasing world suck.” The project has the potential to raise thousands of dollars toward the Vlogbrothers’ Partners In Health work. Additionally, its merch store gives over 90% of its proceeds to Partners In Health. The rest of the store’s profits goes toward paying artists and employees.

Still, the goal of $25 million comes across as impossible. However, John explained that “We’re already more than halfway there.” In addition to the Vlogbrothers’ Partners in Health $6.5 million donation, a group of donors offered to match up to $120,000 worth of donations each year. Green explains that to reach his target, the organization needs to raise a little over $1 million a year.

Partners In Health Creates Progress

Partners In Health has already begun important work. It employs over 450 Sierra Leonean citizens and provides food across the country. In 2019, it marked the third year in a row where no mother died from preventable pregnancy causes. Hospitals were able to have running electricity and water as well as establish a running ambulance. With more investment in health care, the numbers will only continue to improve. With focus, resources and dedication, Sierra Leone’s mothers have a better chance of surviving.

John Green noted in his video that the solution to maternal deaths is not a simple one. “It isn’t ambulances or clean water or electricity or more health care workers. It’s ambulances AND clean water AND electricity AND healthcare workers AND much more.” Green went on to say that “systemic issues demand systemic, long term solutions.” With the Vlogbrothers’ Partners in Health partnership, the future of Sierra Leone’s mothers looks brighter than ever. Anyone can help the cause by donating to the Vlogbrothers’ campaign or visiting its merch store.

Breanna Bonner
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone, located in Western Africa, has long been a question of concern to humanitarian organizations. People have widely debated women’s rights in Sierra Leone and the government has made little progress in gender equality. Gender equality is also a prerequisite for diminishing poverty in the future.

Women’s Primary Function in Society

An outbreak of the Ebola virus burdened Sierra Leone in 2014. Not only did the outbreak cause significant hardship, but Ebola also particularly affected women as they made up 59% of the deceased. The mass female mortality is due to an underlying theme of women as primary caregivers and the country’s gender norms. Historically, women have had no consensual role in marriage and family would give them away in exchange for a bride price. The traditional bride price is even more evidence of women’s objectification and use as a status symbol. Also, women hold lower positions than men in almost every field of work.

A major setback for women advancing in society is the lack of women in government. Sierra Leone’s patriarchal system has influenced the cultural boundaries that women must abide by. The identities of women in Sierra Leone are dependent entirely on male power and male-controlled institutions.

Reproductive Rights

The effect of deep-rooted patriarchy on Sierra Leonean culture is visible, especially with the limited protection of women’s bodily rights. Women’s rights in Sierra Leone have recently been more geared to gaining autonomy over their bodies. There is limited resources and capabilities to enforce punishment of domestic abuse, sexual violence and rape of adults and minors. Another aspect of women’s limitations is the lack of health services for mothers. Sierra Leone has one of the highest female mortality rates in the world with 1,165 of every 100,000 women dying.

With inadequate rights to their maternal health, women have taken it upon themselves to fund their health initiatives and groups. Many women have become health promoters to teach workshops for mothers on nutrition, hygiene, prenatal and postnatal care. The act of becoming leaders of health empowers women to demand change within communities. Women have decided that they will begin offering female healthcare if the government will not.

Change in the Future

The higher power structures must address meaningful change, but some women have already begun to start the change from the bottom. The major changes that have led up to today are the 2007 Domestic Violence Act, Devolution of Estates Act, the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act and honoring the Convention the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. These four acts ensure more consensual marriage practices, allowing female inheritance of property, a minimum quota for women in elected positions and more. While these are major steps forward, the road ahead is long. Women’s rights in Sierra Leone still do not have protection in the country’s constitution and need amending.

The work of non-governmental organizations has been instrumental in introducing new perspectives to the Sierra Leonean government. Evidence of change is already emerging. Women’s rights in Sierra Leone are expanding every day, and women’s function in society is continuing to evolve. The future of women relies on breaking gender norms, adhering to higher standards of protecting females, access to healthcare and inclusive politics.

– Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr

Crops That Are Fighting PovertyAcross the world, agriculture remains one of the primary sources of income for those living in poverty. A 2019 report by The World Bank reported that 80% of those living in extreme poverty reside in rural regions, and a large majority of these individuals rely upon agriculture for their livelihood. The World Bank also notes that developing agriculture is one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty, reduce food insecurity and enhance the general well-being of those living in a community. Potatoes in China, cassava in sub-Saharan Africa, rice in Sierra Leone, pearl millet in India and bananas in Costa Rica are five examples of crops that are fighting poverty.

5 Crops That Are Fighting Poverty

  1. Potatoes in China: In 2019, China was the world’s number one potato-producing country. With a rural population of 45.23%, the nation greatly relies upon agriculture to provide food as well as income to its citizens. In Ulanqub, otherwise known as the “potato city” of China, potato farming is one of the primary means for farmers to rise out of poverty. Due to the fact that viruses have the potential to destroy up to 80% of potato crops, potato engineers in Ulanqub have developed seeds that are more impervious to viruses. These engineers place a sterile potato stem into a solution filled with nutrients to create “virus-free breeder seeds.” The seeds are then planted and produce potatoes of higher quality, ensuring that farmers are able to generate sufficient income and climb out of poverty.
  2. Cassava in sub-Saharan Africa: Cassava is a principal source of calories for 40% of Africans. This crop has traditionally been important during times of famine and low rainfall because it is drought-resistant, requires easily-accessible tools and is easily harvestable by one family. The organization NextGen utilizes genomic technology to isolate beneficial cassava traits that increase plant viability, root quality and yield quantity. By analyzing crop DNA and statistically predicting performance, NextGen is creating cassava crops that are fighting poverty.
  3. Rice in Sierra Leone: Agriculture accounts for 57% of Sierra Leone’s GDP, with rice reigning as the primary staple crop. However, in 2011, the nation was a net rice importer due to struggles with planting efficiency. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) was developed to increase rice crop yield and decrease the labor necessary for upkeep. This method requires the use of organic fertilizers, tighter regulations for watering quantities, greater spacing between seeds to decrease plant competition and rotary hoes for weeding. As of 2014, 10,865 individuals had implemented this strategy in Sierra Leone. SRI has enabled rice to become one of the crops that is fighting poverty by increasing crop production from two to six tons per hectare.
  4. Pearl Millet in India: In India, agriculture employs 59% of the nation’s workforce, with 82% of farmers operating small farms that are highly susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change. As temperatures rise to a scorching 114℉, crops that are able to survive extreme heat are becoming necessary. Wild pearl millet, a relative of domestic pearl millet, is one crop that can withstand such temperatures. Researchers in India are breeding wild pearl millet seeds with domestic pearl millet in order to enhance resistance to heat and the common “blast” disease. With breeding innovations, pearl millet is one of the crops that are fighting poverty.
  5. Bananas in Costa Rica: One out of every 10 bananas produced in 2015 hailed from Costa Rica, the globe’s third-largest banana producer. This industry generated $ 1.1 billion in 2017 and provides jobs for 100,000 Costa Ricans. However, approximately 90% of banana crops across the nation are at risk of nutrient deprivation from a pest known as nematode, which has the potential to obliterate entire plantations. An article by CropLife International reported that a sustainable pesticide has been created by plant scientists in order to mitigate poverty-inducing crop loss and provide environmentally-conscious methods for banana farmers to ward off pests.

Developing crop viability and agricultural technology is important for poverty alleviation as agriculture possesses twice the likelihood of creating financial growth than other economic sectors. Innovations in crop production that decrease the likelihood of failure from drought, disease and changing weather patterns are important for the well-being of rural communities across the globe. Potatoes, cassava, rice, pearl millet and bananas are just five examples of crops that are fighting poverty, but improvements in different facets of agriculture have the potential to enhance the livelihoods of those who provide the world’s food.

Suzi Quigg
Photo: Flickr

homelessness in Sierra LeoneSierra Leone is a country situated on the western coast of Africa where over half of the population lives below the poverty line. The occurrence of various crises and disasters has adversely impacted homelessness in Sierra Leone. The civil war that lasted over a decade from 1991 to 2002, the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and the 2017 mudslide have increased the homeless population in Sierra Leone. Three thousand people experienced displacement because of the mudslide in Freetown that killed over 1,000 people. In 2015, floods in Freetown displaced thousands and caused 10 fatalities.

3 Contributions to Homelessness in Sierra Leone 

Homelessness in Sierra Leone receives little attention from the nation’s political leaders. Assumptions determine that because of strong cultural and social traits, individuals can seek help from neighbors or extended family for shelter and housing needs. However, if friends and family have nothing to give, then those in need have nothing to receive. While the circumstances causing homelessness across the globe tend to be the same, the brutality of it in Sierra Leone differs in magnitude.

  1. Unemployment: An estimated 800,000 individuals between the age of 15-35 in Sierra Leone are actively in search of employment. Despite steady growth in the economy after the civil war, unemployment among youth and young adults is a major reason for homelessness. 
  2. Mental Health: According to the estimates by WHO, 10% of the population in Sierra Leone has mental health problems such as psychosis, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The government and private sector inadequately address mental health problems. Due to inadequate treatment, those battling mental health problems often end up on the streets without care and become homeless.
  3. Housing: The invasion of rebels in 1999 destroyed 5,932 houses in Freetown and neighboring areas of Kissy, Wellington, Calaba Town and Allen Town. The national estimate indicates that due to the internal rebellion, 300,000 homes experienced destruction and 1.2 million people either became internally displaced or fled. The lack of affordable housing or rental apartments adds to the challenges faced by the unemployed and renders them homeless. The government has initiated The New Housing Policy that works to ensure reform, resettlement and reconstruction.

Shelters Supporting the Homeless in Sierra Leone

Despite the inadequate support from the authorities, a handful of not-for-profit intervened to provide necessities along with shelter to the homeless persons. These include:

  • Don Bosco Fambul Shelter: Salesian missionaries initiated their support in 2001 by rehabilitating the former child soldiers. The Don Bosco Fambul Shelter in Freetown has become one of the leading organizations. It provides shelter, food, clothing, educational opportunities and counseling. During the Ebola crisis, it also transformed a school into a home for 120 boys. 
  • Sisterland Shelter: An NGO formed in Freetown Sierra Leone, the Sisterland Shelter aims to provide safe accommodation for women sleeping on streets with their children. It supports women by providing access to education or vocational training to make themselves employable as well as medical care.

To overcome the problem of homelessness in Sierra Leone, it is imperative to deal with the challenges of unemployment, lack of mental health awareness and lack of education; to do so, leaders must provide stronger systems for social support and healthcare. The government is taking a step in the right direction, though, by investing in housing infrastructure to tackle homelessness in Sierra Leone. 

Anandita Bardia
Photo: Unsplash

Education in Sierra LeoneMany important improvements in educational outcomes have occurred in Sierra Leone since 2015, especially for women and children. The country is bouncing back from the civil war, Ebola crisis and other serious challenges. This progress is partially owed to organizations that help children go to school. Several NGOs and community-based actors support education in Sierra Leone. Here is a small glimpse into the work of many.

4 Organizations Improving Education in Sierra Leone

  1. Street Child: Street Child’s goal is to improve the educational prospects of the world’s poorest and most marginalized children. Since its founding, the organization has helped more than 250,000 children escape poverty and go to school.  It originally started by improving education in Sierra Leone, where it began a project for 100 children in a small northern village. It has since expanded to serve children in ten other countries. Some of its work involves providing young girls with school supplies and giving families financial support. The organization also trains teachers and supplies classroom materials.
  2. Mother’s Club: After setbacks and challenges from the Ebola outbreak, mothers in Sierra Leone began organizing to ensure their children would receive a full education. Mother’s Clubs are village and community-based networks that sell products to fund their children’s schooling. Profits from farming, tye-dyeing, gardening and soap making pay for school supplies, books and uniforms. Thanks to these self-starters, with aid from international partners like UNICEF, communities can help drive positive educational outcomes.
  3. Girls Access to Education (GATE): Funded by U.K. Aid and its partners, Girl’s Access to Education (GATE) aims to help girls from disadvantaged households go to school and enables out-of-school girls to resume their education. Importantly, it also empowers communities to create their own solutions. The net enrollment rates in both primary and secondary education have consistently increased since 2013, due in part to their work. Where the literacy rate for girls ages 15-24 was less than 40% in 2005, that figure rose to 62.7% in 2018. The gap between male and female literacy rates continues to drastically decrease as well. This speaks to an overwhelmingly positive impact on Sierra Leone’s children and youth.
  4. Teach for All: Teach for All is a network of education partners and nonprofits who work together to help inspire change on a global scale. The organization announced Teach for Sierra Leone as its latest partner in July 2020. Similarly to other actors, Teach for Sierra Leone is community-driven and recognizes educational disparities in the country as an urgent issue. They aim to bridge education gaps by recruiting women and teachers from under-resourced schools whose efforts will help break the cycle of global poverty.

A Brighter Future

Overall, these organizations play a critical role in improving access to education in Sierra Leone. Currently, many schools have been disrupted due to COVID-19, but now radio lessons bridge the learning gap until reopening. So long as outside actors continue to provide foreign aid, assist in educational outcomes and empower communities, children in Sierra Leone will be able to reach their fullest potential.

Rachel Moloney
Photo: Flickr

Psychosocial Recovery from Ebola in Sierra LeoneCommunity healing dialogues are proving effective in providing psychosocial recovery from Ebola in Sierra Leone by addressing the trauma and stigma that survivors face. These sessions give community members a forum to raise and address their concerns about problems in the community, promoting health, wellness and prosperity in both psychosocial, emotional and economic senses. The dialogues seek to erase the stigma and promote economic recovery via micro-enterprise groups.

Poverty and Public Health Challenges

Sierra Leone is a West African country with a population of 7.5 million. Life expectancy is approximately 52 years for women and 51 years for men. The top ten causes of death include malaria, neonatal disorders, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world (women have a one in 17 chance of dying from pregnancy or childbirth), in addition to one of the highest mortality rates for children under five. The country lacks a centralized public health system, and most people cannot access health care due to extreme poverty.

Support and Strides Amid Ebola

Sierra Leone had the highest number of fatal Ebola cases in the 2014-2016 outbreak. The disease’s severity prompted the CDC and NGOs like Partners in Health to provide resources and support. The CDC mounted its largest ever response to an outbreak in an individual country, providing services that included:

  • Epidemiological/strategical support
  • Infection prevention and control
  • Case management
  • Health promotion
  • Laboratory/diagnostic support
  • Emergency management
  • Border health
  • Research support

Partners in Health also provided emergency Ebola care and stayed in Sierra Leone after the outbreak to help strengthen the country’s public health system, staff, supplies and infrastructure. It has provided prenatal care, community health services, tuberculosis treatment, mental health care, blood banking and emergency medical services. The organization also established ongoing support systems for Ebola survivors. Strengthening Sierra Leone’s health system is an important means of both alleviating poverty and helping the country heal from Ebola. However, much work remains to be done.

Returning to Communities Through Healing Dialogues

Ebola is a disease with severe physical manifestations, but its social and psychological aftereffects can also be devastating and can help ensure that those affected remain in poverty.

In the words of one lifelong resident of Sierra Leone, “The Ebola outbreak in West Africa had the same psychological effects on individuals as war.”

Often, Ebola survivors are grieving for the deaths of their loved ones. At the same time, they face stigma and discrimination when trying to return to their communities because people fear that they still carry Ebola.

To address these complex and multifaceted issues, USAID’s Advancing Partners & Communities project introduced community healing dialogues. These meetings, which are conducted by trained facilitators, give community members space to talk through and resolve their concerns. These sessions are having positive effects on psychosocial recovery from Ebola in Sierra Leone for both survivors and their communities. Some survivors have been able to rejoin their communities free of stigma. In addition, the sessions serve as a forum for the community-based resolution of economic problems. For example, the forum led to a micro-enterprise group helping pay for a young woman’s school fee.

Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak was devastating on medical, economic and psychosocial levels. Support from governmental and non-governmental organizations have helped the country face these issues. Community healing dialogues have been extremely beneficial in aiding psychosocial recovery from Ebola in Sierra Leone.

– Isabelle Breier
Photo: USAID

Poverty in Sierra Leone
Since establishing independence in 1961, Sierra Leone, a country located in West Africa, has suffered from various conflicts and injustices including a civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002. As a result, Sierra Leone lacks significant development as a country, ranking 181 out of 189 on the 2019 Human Development Index. The nation remains impoverished. In fact, according to the United Nations Development Programme, approximately 60% of people live in poverty in Sierra Leone.

Factors Contributing to Poverty

Experts believe that four primary factors contribute to Sierra Leone’s overwhelming levels of poverty: government corruption, a lack of an established education system, absence of civil rights and poor infrastructure. These factors make poverty difficult to beat. With the unestablished infrastructure for roads and electricity, high transportation costs pose barriers to trade and limit economic growth.

Additionally, an absence of funding for educational programs leaves Sierra Leone behind in terms of gaining knowledge about civil rights or responsibilities. This contributes to gender inequality and the marginalization of women. The effects of gender inequality include women’s inability to join the workforce and a cultural view of women as servants for men. These ideas inhibit Sierra Leone’s development in a world that values education and women’s rights.

Reducing Poverty in Sierra Leone

Despite these ongoing issues, there have been various efforts to reduce poverty in Sierra Leone. The Free Healthcare Initiative (FHCI) launched in 2010 in Sierra Leone. This initiative provides pregnant women, new mothers and young children with access to basic healthcare in order to reduce infant mortality rates. Although the FHCI is not a solution to poverty in Sierra Leone, it led to several healthcare reforms, including adequate pay for healthcare workers. Robert B. Zoellick, former president of The World Bank Group, expressed his support for such efforts in a press release in 2010, explaining that addressing poverty in Sierra Leone would help lead to peace.

The Work of Oxfam

Various organizations from the United States have also made efforts to reduce poverty in Sierra Leone. One such organization is Oxfam, which has headquarters in Boston. This global organization aims to provide assistance to people experiencing injustices related to poverty. In Sierra Leone, Oxfam focuses on solving infrastructure-related problems, such as access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Additionally, the organization holds the government and other powerful beings in the country accountable by advocating for gender equality and food security. Oxfam also provides assistance in times of emergency, including during past outbreaks of cholera and Ebola in Sierra Leone.

The Tiger Worms Toilet Project is one of Oxfam’s notable successes in Sierra Leone. This project helped prevent communicable diseases by addressing sewage concerns through enhanced sanitation practices. It also helped prevent diseases by educating those in Sierra Leone about their spread. These actions enable Oxfam to make strides toward accomplishing its vision for Sierra Leone: “A just, inclusive and resilient Sierra Leone without poverty, in which citizens, particularly women and youth demand and acquire access to their rights and live a life of dignity.”

Although poverty remains a persistent problem in this West African country, aid from U.S.-based organizations like Oxfam is a small step toward eliminating poverty in Sierra Leone.

Hannah Carroll
Photo: Flickr