The Executive Director of the World Health Organization, WHO, who doubles as head of health emergencies programmes, Dr Michael Ryan, has paid a courtesy call on His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio after the official launch of the country’s Universal Health Preparedness Review, UHPR, in Freetown.
“Thank you, His Excellency, for taking your time to host us and for welcoming us in at the shortest notice. I bring you special greetings from Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, who has consented to visit you soon. It is really an honour to be here. I am back in Sierra Leone. I was here in the 90s during difficult times, and I was here for Ebola also.
“Our government in England said, Let’s create an emergency programme that emerges from the aftermath of West African Ebola. So, we all have the lessons we have learned from WHO and the international system to encourage the brave inputs from the professionals in Sierra Leone,” he disclosed.
Dr Ryan also recalled that they all lost friends, colleagues and family during the pandemic, adding that sometimes their lives went through struggles that they learned from. He noted that to have come back to feel the atmosphere of Sierra Leone, feel that development, feel that young, enterprising, increasingly educated, dynamic society is great for him because he had been in the country in some of the worst times.
“I am here to assure you that I will take that message to Dr Tedros, that Sierra Leone is on a multi-dimensional path to strengthen the health and welfare of its people. I also want to confirm here that Sierra Leone is the first country in West Africa, the second country in Africa, and the sixth country in the world to implement the Universal Health and Preparedness Review.
“This is a learning experience for us in Geneva, and it is Sierra Leone’s experience of being a model to the rest of the world. This in itself is a gift to WHO. We are grateful for what we do for Sierra Leone, as you are willing to do for the rest of the world,” he confirmed.
Dr Stella Chungong, Director for Health Security and Preparedness from WHO Headquarters thanked the President for hosting them and conveyed that Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, sent her personal greetings.
“As a continent and globally, we have learned lots of lessons going through Ebola and COVID-19, but building on that, the work that has been done here in Sierra Leone is very unique. We are now finding time to better understand how it was done in line with the United Nations Universal Health Coverage programmes by making sure we leave no one behind.
“For us, this is very exciting because this is something we are learning from Sierra Leone, jointly, about how we can basically ensure that we strengthen the health system and improve outcomes. The Sierra Leone case is very impressive, and we will be working together to document those gains,” she assured.
President Dr Julius Maada Bio, while welcoming the WHO team to Sierra Leone, first thanked members for being in the country for the past few days, confirming that he knew they were in capable hands.
“I am very pleased that you are here. My government’s commitment to dealing with health issues is very strong. As a matter of fact, in our Human Capital Development agenda, this is one of the biggest pillars. We have defined human capital to mean health, education, and food security combined because we believe that if we have to have any exponential increase in terms of delivery on our promises, we have to combine the three,” the President stated.
He added that because of the lack of resources, they had not been able to address all three at the same time, noting further that they had, however, been able to allocate 22 percent of the annual government budget to education and also moved from 6 percent to 11 percent for health.
“With support from partners, we have been able to make some very useful gains in the health sector. With your support, we can do more. The news of a 60 percent decrease in maternal mortality was welcoming, indicating that we have been working so hard unknowingly, with the raw desire to want to improve, not just pay lip service to our people. With the technical support we had and the experience gained during Ebola, we are guarded by scientific advice and experts and using the available tools we were able to provide the right information to the people.
“With that political will and the technical support from experts, learning from experience, we were able to deliver. We closed down our doors before the index case was recorded. We implemented customised lockdowns to demarcate and deal with communities. We keep schools open and conduct exams. All this is evidence of our success,” President Bio told the WHO team.
The President emphasised that his government was just busy addressing the felt needs of the people because he didn’t have time to use any obstacles as excuses. He said his government had a mandate to improve the lives of citizens, which he had been working on.
“The fact that voters will not listen to excuses, that is why we have been working with our little resources to ensure our people are comfortable,” he concluded.
The WHO Executive Director was accompanied by Dr Abdou Salam Gueye, the Regional Emergency Director of WHO Africa Region, Dr Kasonde Mwinga, Director of Universal Health Coverage, Life Course Cluster and Dr Innocent Nuwagira, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone.