By Mohamed Lamin Massaquoi & Cyril Barnes
The New Direction’s situation analysis presents brushstrokes to paint a picture of Sierra Leone’s health sector post-Ebola. “Despite the much-trumpeted-health-strengthening efforts under the Post-Ebola Recovery Strategy, the health sector remains poor. The sector continues to be plagued by limited public investment and untimely disbursement, weak human resource base, weaknesses in disease prevention, control and surveillance, poor service delivery and poor governance,” an excerpt from the New Direction manifesto revealed.
In 2018, His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio launched the Human Capital Development Agenda for Sierra Leone bordering on three strategic areas: Education, Health and Agriculture. As critical as these sectors have always been, little attention was paid by previous administrations to improve them, and as expected these sectors were left with little or nothing to show.
The health sector plays a pivotal role in the productivity of all sectors; a healthy nation drives its development thereof. In today’s edition, we assess President Bio’s development footprints in the health sector, measuring his performance over the past five years and his contributions to providing access to healthcare delivery in various districts and chiefdom headquarter towns in Sierra Leone.
Recruitment & Training of Health Care Workers
Recruitment and training of healthcare workers have been a cornerstone of President Bio’s Human Capital Development agenda for the health sector. The government’s quest to improve the human resource capacity of the country is borne out of the desire to provide quality healthcare access to all Sierra Leoneans. Against that backdrop, the government has recruited over 3,000 health workers comprising doctors, nurses and community health workers. Furthermore, the government has trained and ensured the immediate absorption of trained health workers in the public service with thousands of pin codes. The government has also improved the conditions of health workers for all categories to attract and retain them. They have also developed training curricula and special incentive schemes for trained medical doctors and those working in remote areas.
Construction of Hospitals
Even though there were gaps in Private Sector Investment in the health sector over the years, the country has recently experienced significant improvement in private sector-driven projects. On 22nd January 2021, His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio launched the Sierra Leone health village and turned the sod to construct an ultra-modern general hospital at Kerry Town, Western Rural District.
According to the MOU signed between the Republic of Sierra Leone and EASI Trading Limited, the project will cater for a 150-bed General Hospital that will provide diagnostic imaging services such as Endoscopy, X-Ray, MRI and CT Scans; construct 40 flats for Doctors, 50 rooms for Nurses, a training facility for medical, nursing and other allied health professionals, and also a 36-room building for people accompanying patients and at the same time create a minimum of 200 local jobs in the Kerry Town area when completed.
Additionally, several hospitals have been constructed during these past five years. The Kinghaman Road Hospital, Macaulay Street Government Hospital, the Rokupa Government Hospital as well as the construction of hospitals in district headquarter towns have improved access to healthcare in the country. Furthermore, a delegation from the United Arab Emirates recently visited the site for the construction of a 100-bed Field Hospital in Port Loko. When completed, it will have a Conference Centre, houses for 17 Doctors and Nurses, and apartments for 49 staff.
Recently, the Honourable Minister of Health announced the construction of a pediatric Center at the Lumley Hospital. These and many more, including Her Excellency the First Lady’s 34 Military Hospital expansion project, together with the ongoing construction of an ultra-modern hospital in Jojoima, Malema Chiefdom, Kailahun District and the ongoing construction of the Karlu Rural Hospital in Pujehun District which will house X-Ray, Surgical Theater, labour/delivery ward, pharmacy, lab & ambulance for approximately 20,000 residents in the riverine communities, have added to President Bio’s firm foundation for the health sector.
Reduction in Maternal Mortality Rate
Before, the World Health Organisation estimated maternal mortality at 1,360 per 100,000 live births and put Sierra Leone at least on the child survival league table. Two (2) out of every five (5) maternal deaths are due to teenage pregnancy, according to reports. Today, there has been a significant reduction in maternal deaths from 717 per 100,000 to 443 per 100,000, a 38% reduction in death-related deliveries. The Government of President Bio has set a new target, committing to achieving zero preventable maternal deaths by 2030.
In view of the above, the government recently commissioned a brand-new Oxygen plant with over 100 oxygen cylinders at the Bo Government Hospital in an effort to reduce maternal mortality and increase the survival rate of people with respiratory conditions. According to the Ministry, in a few weeks, the Minister will commission a number of Oxygen Plants for the Kenema and Makeni Hospitals. Also, 11 Oxygen Plants will be installed in other parts of the country in the ensuing months.
Health-On-The-Wheels is a novel initiative introduced by the New Direction Government as part of ongoing efforts to improve access to quality healthcare delivery across Sierra Leone and to further boost efforts to attain universal healthcare coverage. The Health-On-The-Wheels allows medical practitioners to visit different localities in the country to provide free and timely healthcare services to sick people. Since its launch last year, the initiative has benefited over 19,000 Sierra Leoneans in 12 districts, especially in the North and the Western Area. Health Minister, Dr Austin Demby, said during the launch of the programme, that the move was in line with President Bio’s commitment to expanding healthcare reach in deprived communities.
Construction of Nursing Schools at District Level
As part of its Human Capital drive to improve the capacity of healthcare workers, the New Direction Government has established and constructed nursing schools in several districts, Port Loko and Kenema. This move has proved essential in improving the level of competence among nurses and midwives and increasing the number of caregivers in the country. Also, it has eliminated the burden, among nurses, of relocating to bigger towns and cities in search of similar educational pursuits. The idea to expand nursing schools across the country has enabled healthcare providers to acquire the requisite skills needed to perform their duties with excellence.
The Government has continued its numerous programmes that cater for timely immunization treatments for infants across Sierra Leone. This has led to an exponential reduction in infant mortality rates and supported the healthy growth and well-being of children. The government’s treatment for people with critical diseases has also been heightened over the last five years. The number of people living with HIV that receive life-saving treatment has increased by 100%. From just over 23,000 in 2017, the figures now stand at over 46,000. The statistics for deaths relating to malaria have also dropped considerably by 47%.
The Bio-led government also thoroughly managed the COVID-19 pandemic through well-coordinated approaches which helped to reduce the infection, transmission and mortality rates nationwide. Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 response strategy was described as one of the best around the world. Additionally, Sierra Leone was able to roll out a successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
His Excellency the President has made a further commitment to providing quality access to healthcare services to Sierra Leoneans through the construction of more hospitals and nursing/midwifery schools, recruitment and training of more caregivers, increasing immunization and vaccination efforts, providing more pin codes, expanding health-on-the-wheels initiative to target more remote communities, etc.