By Bai-Bai Sesay
PRESIDENT ERNEST Bai Koroma’s free health care initiative in a donor driven country like Sierra Leone is no doubt experiencing some setbacks and challenges along the way, but on the whole it is a laudable venture as the country is gaining tremendously. It is clear that many Sierra Leoneans have no doubt in his leadership and sincerity as he works to meet and overcome these apparently stiff challenges.
SINCE PRESIDENT Koroma took over leadership of this country, we have seen massive and dramatic improvements in the health sector, which has to a large extent brought home the truth that Sierra Leone has a leader worth commending.
FOR A country that has gone through a ruthless and mindless long standing civil conflict, with its economy heavily dependent on donors, there is dire need for its leadership to be sincere, dedicated and committed. These leadership qualities have been amply demonstrated by President Koroma and in this case making health care available to those that are venerable the most.
INITIALLY, WHEN the president announced the free health care initiative for pregnant women, lactating mothers and under five kids, it ignited much skepticism from pessimistic individuals in the country. Today, the Doubting Thomases have melted away as many families are daily becoming beneficiaries of the initiative and starting right from April 27, 2010 when President Koroma officially launched the free health care initiative.
THE EVIDENCE that the free health care initiative is going places is undisputable. For instance, in the month before the introduction of the free health care initiative, an average of 170,000 children received medical care from Sierra Leone’s hospital facilities each month. But in just few months after the introduction of the free health care initiative, the number exceeded 340,000. Statistics show that it has now nearly doubled that number.
WHEN THE initiative of Free Health Care was rumoured many thought it was an empty dream. But the President tirelessly worked together with his Health Ministry Officials and Partners. Its introduction faced serious challenges with less meaning people stealing the drugs. The effort to bring free health care to this country was not easy and ministry officials readily admitted to making wrong decisions at the initial point. In order to put the system on the right footing, scores of people worked long hours for months towards a single goal to make the initiative or what critics perceived as empty dream a concrete reality.
THE INITIATIVE is now working and with the dimension that the government of President Koroma together with donor partners is looking at extending the free medical care to other sectors through a health care insurance package for citizens.
HEALTH WORKERS, now earning a living wage are full of motivation to do their best so as to ensure the success of the initiative. The former Minister of Health and Sanitation, Haja Zainab Hawa Bangura who was transferred from the Foreign Affairs Ministry to Health and Sanitation took office has also been on a fast track tour, surveying the country’s health system and services.
THE CURRENT Minister of Health and Sanitation Madam Miata Kargbo is actualizing the adage that “health is wealth “and for all Sierra Leoneans. To this end, she is seen and with vigour scrupulously implementing the president’s free health care initiative, looking at how to sustain and consolidate the gains made as well as addressing many of the stiff challenges of the initiative.
IN SIMILAR vein, First Lady Madam Sia Koroma is also playing a vital role in the implementation of the free health care in the country through her “Women In Safer Health” (WISH) initiative and the Danke Foundation. On this score, the First Lady has set up an office, the first of its kind in the history of Sierra Leone where her focus is on health with emphasis on women and children. She is also contributing immensely in bringing donors to assist in the initiative, and working in complementing her husband.
WHEN PRESIDENT Koroma took office in September 2007, he put the health care initiative at the top of his priority list. He said he had firmly resolved to do something dramatic in the health sector of the country. True, there are yet very stiff challenges the initiative is facing. But judging the merits of the initiative, it is apparent that President Koroma has certainly succeeded; for this is one programme which will continue and will serve as one of his uncontestable legacies for his people.
“I INHERITED a health sector that was in shambles, a health sector that was giving us terrible health indicators, where one out of eight women were dying in childbirth and where one out of every 10 children die before the age of five years”, Koroma had pointedly explained the reasons for the Free Health Care Initiative during its launching.
THE NUMBER of children treated for malaria for instance has roughly tripled from the previous years. Certainly, the initiative has been able to reduce the rate of women dying during childbirth, a key motivation for the initiative.
TODAY, THE drugs supply in the country target destination of 21 hospitals, 1,270 health centers with Freetown alone covering 6 hospitals and 106 health centers.
OFFICIALS AT PCMH reported that 800 patients attended the hospital when there was no free health care. But now that there is free health care, the figure for treatment has increased to 9,000 patients as recorded from January to August 2011.
IT IS encouraging to see the hard work and commitment of the hospital staff in the face of these challenges. The work ethic of the President has clearly been contagious and transmitted to the health sector workers. Encouraged by the results achieved, a senior medical doctor at PCMH has called on pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under 5 to regularly visit the hospital at least three times a week.
SIERRA LEONE has been successful in the scheme which other countries are expected to follow of which Malawi is a typical example.
SIERRA LEONE was known over the years as having the highest maternal and infant mortality death rates but is now making significant improvements, climbing the human development index from bottom to upwards.
THE SUCCESS of this innovation is already being commended in all parts of the country, and even internationally, and hospitals and health centers all over the country have given reports of how the general public has appreciated the initiative.
WE KNOW and have appreciated that three institutions- the Health ministry, DFID and UNICEF are collaborating and working together in the implementation of the free health care program.
ONE OF the things that we have seen is that there is an increase in the utilization of the services offered an increase in the amount of women going in for antenatal care; children under five are being taken to health facilities frequently and there is an increase in the number of lactating mothers visiting hospitals. All this is a pointer to the fact that President Koroma’s health initiative is a resounding success story in the country.