The life expectancy of women in Sierra Leone is just 61 years old. The country leads in the world in maternal mortality ratio, ranking in 1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births — nearly 500 more than the next nation and three times higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa. Lack of clean water and well equipped sanitary equipment has unsurprisingly come with generally high maternal health risks. Maternal health in Sierra Leone is improving (albeit with further necessary upgrades) despite its numerous impediments.
Sierra Leone’s Economic and Political State
In 2010, the government in Sierra Leone announced an ambitious program — the Free Health Care Initiative — to provide free care in public facilities for pregnant and lactating women and young children. Still, mothers felt care to be inadequate as little transportation assistance, sociocultural barriers and poor quality still remain difficult years later.
In addition, a devastating 2014 outbreak of Ebola further stunted improvements in health conditions in the nation. In fact, according to a 2015 paper, the reduced number of health personal after the epidemic may have forced maternal mortality to increase by 74 percent in Sierra Leone. But workers are on the ground making progress — individuals from as close as neighboring communities, to as far as a dozen time zones away in Asia, are dedicated to creating improvements in maternal health in Sierra Leone.
Impact of Aid Organizations
A UNICEF partner, Sierra Leone Social Aid Volunteers, built modern toilets, a laundromat, incinerator, placenta pit, water well and water supply system in the nation. And that’s not all — UNICEF and other humanitarian aid organizations have offered aid to over 150 facilities across Sierra Leone.
Fatmata Conteh, midwife at the Konta Line Community Health Center, stated that as a result of these efforts, people in Sierra Leone “can easily clean the health facility and wash all our equipment here. Mothers have access to convenient toilets and water in the bathroom to have a bath after delivery.”
The health center where Conteh is employed provides service to over 7,000 individuals across nearly 30 cities in which nearly one half of patients are under the age of five. In December 2015, UNICEF, funded by the European Union, oversaw 16 separate construction and rehabilitation projects started across the country. All theses projects aimed to improve basic health infrastructure, including maternal facilities.
In November 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a new five-year strategy for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health in Sierra Leone. The strategy highlights several focus areas, including emergency obstetric and neonatal care, management of newborn and childhood illnesses and prevention of teenage pregnancy. This strategy will hope to launch off the recent progress of late — the females’ increased attendance (at least four checkups) during pregnancy and malaria treatment.
“WHO is proud to have supported the country in developing this strategy together with our partners, but we are also aware that this is just the beginning,” said Alexander Chimbaru, Officer-in-Charge of WHO Sierra Leone.
China has also been an influential partner in the region through its support of aid programs in Sierra Leone. In early June, a group of Chinese health workers touched down in Freetown and joined other medical technicians at the Jui China Sierra Leone Friendship hospital. The hospital provides medical care to children, pregnant and mothers free of charge.
To accompany such dutiful care, the first lady of Sierra Leone, Fatima Bio, officially launched the China-Sierra Leone Maternal and Child Health Care Innovation Project. At a launch event, Bio highlighted the importance of a strong education system and health network, as well as the negative effects of teenage pregnancy.
Closer to home, individuals make substantial sacrifices to assist mothers in giving healthy births. Health Poverty Action has featured Mary Turoy, a successful Maternal Health Promoter in the Kamalo village in the Northern Bombali District of the country. To mitigate the difficulties women face in just traveling to medical centers, Turoy and others in her community offer housing, pregnancy information and much-needed advice.
Maternal Health in Sierra Leone
One of the Sustainable Development Goal health targets is to decrease from 216 maternal deaths per 100,000 in 2015, to less than 70 maternal deaths. The United Nations (U.N.) holds that maternal deaths can be largely prevented if programs bolster the level of care during delivery. And improvements around the globe are, in fact, being made — infectious diseases and adolescent childbearing are down worldwide.
However, conditions remain the most concerning in sub-Saharan Africa. Improvements in maternal health in Sierra Leone are happening, but change is still necessary. Healthcare and maternal conditions in this coastal, west African nation are still an area of concern that could do with continued care today and in the future.
– Isabel Bysiewicz