Alhaji M.B. Jalloh, Press Attaché, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States reports from Freetown
A high-powered delegation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday 5th February, 2018 officially visited the Republic of Sierra Leone on the kind invitation of the Government.
On its arrival, His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma warmly welcomed the delegation to State House into the country and held a fruitful discussion with them regarding the various projects UAE is supporting in Sierra Leone.
On Tuesday 6th February, 2018, the delegation from the Emirates Red Crescent Authority paid a courtesy call on the Minister of Health and Sanitation (MoHS), Dr. Abu Bakarr Fofanah together with some senior officials of the Ministry, including the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Brima Kargbo.
In his statement, the head of the delegation, Mr. Tariq Al Faheem, said they were delighted in seeing an improved relationship between the UAE and Sierra Leone and stressed on the need to continue improving on the relationship.
He disclosed the project which the UAE has designed for implementation at the Ola During Children’s Hospital on Fourah Bay Road, Freetown. He said the purpose of their official visit, among other things, was to expedite the implementation of the project and get things done as quickly as possible. The project, Mr. Al Faheem said, includes the rehabilitation of the Ola During Children’s Hospital with the provision of two Toyota ambulances donated by the delegation and two 40-feet containers full of medical equipment yet to arrive in Sierra Leone.
He said the project is meant to help reduce the high maternal and infant mortality rate in Sierra Leone. The medical equipment, he said, is very expensive and promised that they were working on other projects that would benefit the country’s health sector and other viable sectors that would help alleviate poverty among majority of Sierra Leoneans. The head of delegation noted that the UAE already has existing projects it has funded in Sierra Leone.
In his response, the Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Abu Bakarr Fofanah, who had earlier introduced his team to the UAE delegation, assured that since the equipment is a gift to the people of Sierra Leone, it will be duty-free whenever it arrives in the country. He added that as long as the gift or consignment is sent through his Ministry, he would approach the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) for a duty waiver and that once the equipment is installed at the Ola During Children’s Hospital, it would never be removed or transferred to another health facility.
Dr. Abu Bakarr Fofanah highlighted the numerous challenges in the country’s health sector, citing the creation of two additional districts to the fourteen existing ones. According to him, Government has to provide administrative arrangements for new districts with regards development ranging from health, education, water supply to other sectors.
The country’s Health Chief also made mention of how patients are flown abroad for medical treatment for diseases like cancer and other death threatening diseases. He further explained that the country has only one emergency hospital in the country run by Italians, noting that, if the country could have one more in the provinces, cases of accident would be referred there instead of the Goderich Emergency Hospital in the Western Area.
Also reacting to the Minister’s response, Mr. Tariq Al Faheem said: “We just want to say that we are starting and we shall continue in future. All the equipment will come at once and all you need is storage facility.” The head of delegation also disclosed that a generator is also part of the gift; though senior officials of the Health Ministry suggested the installation of solar energy for the hospital, citing Princess Christian Maternity Hospital (PCMH) which they claimed was enjoying 90% solar system day in, day out. Mr. Tariq Al Faheem assured the meeting of passing on all the challenges they have highlighted in the country’s health sector to the Government of the UAE to ensure that they help the children of Sierra Leone.
At the end of the meeting at Youyi Building, Brookfields in Freetown, the UAE delegation left in a motorcade to the Ola During Children’s Hospital where the delegation took a conducted tour of the departments and units of the hospital to get first-hand information on its current situation. The delegation was guided throughout the tour by the Acting Medical Superintendent, Dr. Ayeshatu M. Mustapha, who explained the technical hiccups of every department or unit of the hospital in order to give a clear picture of the constraints they are facing in treating patients.
Addressing the medical staff, Mr. Al Faheem reiterated that they have a commitment to do more for Sierra Leone, noting that whenever they fall short, they should not hesitate to let them know. He disclosed that the Ola During Children’s Hospital project will commence in July, this year, while he explained his previous visits to Sierra Leone in October 2016 and in March 2017.
Mr. Al Faheem further disclosed that after the installation of the medical equipment, the company where the equipment was procured will train local health workers as suggested or recommended by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation for maintenance, adding that the equipment is one year warranty. “We are only looking at the Ola During Children’s Hospital for now, but we have other projects concerning digging of water wells,” the head of delegation said.
In an exclusive interview with Dr. Salem Al Shamsi, one of the UAE delegates, he disclosed that before their official visit to Sierra Leone, they were instructed by their Government to activate all means to ensure that Sierra Leoneans get all the help that they need.“The instruction came from a high place in our Government. It was a clear instruction that “GO AND DO, NOT GO AND STUDY OR DO A RESEARCH” said Dr. Salem Al Shamsi.
On his impression about Sierra Leonean medical doctors, he had this to say: “I respect Sierra Leonean doctors for their resilience with the minimal resources that they have and I believe there is big room for improvement. All they need is the support.” According to Dr. Salem Al Shamsi, their delegation comprised three (3) biomedical engineers, two (2) project managers, a medical doctor and a photographer along with an Engineering Team who are currently working on getting the layouts of the Hospital with detailed measurement that started work immediately.
Dr. Al Shamsi acknowledged the fact that one of their biggest supporters in Sierra Leone is His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. He praised the President for his usual hospitality he has been according them, adding that, this is their third visit to Sierra Leone in there months.
Sierra Leone’s Consul General in the UAE Commercial capital, Dubai, Mr. Bahige Annan, led the UAE delegation to all the official places it visited, including State House, the Ministries of Health and Sanitation, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Water Resources, Ola During Children’s Hospital, Deep Eye Water, Disaster Resettlement Home at 6 Mile project sites, among others.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on the following day, Mr. Bahige Annan in his address to the Minister, Dr. Kaifala Marah, gave an overview of the UAE delegation’s visit to Sierra Leone and its activities the previous day. The head of delegation also gave a brief background of the projects they are supporting in Sierra Leone, while Dr. Al Shamsi gave his impression about what he saw during their tour of Ola During Children’s Hospital.
Responding, Dr. Kaifala Marah extolled the UAE delegation for its valuable assistance to Sierra Leone and described the country as a resilient one. He also thanked them on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone and praised them for their promise to provide the Ola During Children’s Hospital with solar energy. The country’s top diplomat said while he is looking forward to more of those projects, especially in the energy area, he reminded the delegation of the fact that Government cannot do it all or do it alone. Dr. Marah emphasized the importance of the private sector for job creation and the strengthening of relationship between UAE and Sierra Leone.
The Foreign Minister prayed for the Emirates Red Crescent Authority for a job well done and thanked the delegates before they left to Deep Eye Water in the Western Area Rural District (WARD). At the Al Bass Orphanage Centre under the Ansarul Islamic College at Deep Eye Water, the curious pupils who were assembled at the forecourt of the school welcomed the UAE delegation and thrilled the delegates with the Sierra Leone National Anthem in Arabic much to their admiration. The high-point of the visit was the distribution of a large quantity of food items that was donated by the Emirates Red Crescent Authority worth tens of millions of Leones.
In the same school compound, the delegation was led to the site of a surface water well which project was supported by the Emirates Red Crescent Authority and implemented by a Muslim organization called Al Huda Foundation for Development and Humanitarian Services. The well, according to Dr. Ibrahim Jalloh of the humanitarian organization, is about eleven meters deep and was officially commissioned on 21st December, 2017.
At 6 Mile, there was also a massive distribution of food items to hundreds of flood victims at the Crossing Camp otherwise known as the Disaster Resettlement Home. Amongst the food items, were hundreds of 25kg bags of rice, half-sized rubbers of cooking oil, cartons of sugar cubes and tealeaves. The food items were distributed by the UAE delegation in collaboration with the Al Huda Foundation for Development and Humanitarian Services. At both Deep Eye Water and 6 Mile, the head of delegation reiterated the commitment of their country to continue helping the people of Sierra Leone. He disclosed that they started their assistance to the country seven months ago.
Several other speakers from the Al Huda Foundation unanimously expressed thanks and appreciation to the UAE delegation for feeding the needy and also commended the Government of Sierra Leone for strengthening its relationship with the UAE which they said has yielded dividend. On that same day, the UAE delegation also visited the Ministry of water Resources to know the status of the water project the Emirates Red Crescent Authority is funding in some of the rural areas of the country.
According to the cooperation agreement between the Emirates Red Crescent Authority and the Ministry of Water Resources in Sierra Leone, the project concerns the digging of 49 artesian wells including the pumps, tanks and solar energy system with a total cost US$1, 816, 773 and US$37, 077 per well. The project also involves the digging of 63 ground wells with manual pumps and with a total cost of US$617, 400 and US$7, 800 per well.
The purpose of the agreement is to provide financial donation (grant) by the Emirates Red Crescent Authority to dig artesian wells, manage the project and raise awareness among the rural people in Sierra Leone in order to contribute to improving the water services provided by the Government of Sierra Leone as well as secure and provide drinking water in the rural areas agreed upon by both parties with a total value not exceeding US$2, 734, 173. At the conference room of the Ministry of Water Resources, Mr. Bahige Annan informed senior officials of the Ministry that the UAE delegation was not only in Sierra Leone to support with water project but to undertake as many other projects as possible.
The Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Momodu Maligie expressed profound gratitude to the UAE delegation for funding the water project, saying that “the gift of water is a gift of life.” He recalled how one of the beneficiaries of the project – Bumbuna, actually felt the Government had forgotten about the people because there was no water facility in that part of the country. The Minister also recounted the virtues of the late Sierra Leone Ambassador to the UAE, Architect Siray Timbo, who he said, initiated the project agreement, noting that the provision of water is so important to the people that the project came at the right time. In his contribution, Dr. Salem Al Shamsi said it would mean a lot for them to see what they have started and see how Sierra Leoneans feel. “We are not here only to see but to also do more,” he said.
The Director General of Sierra Leone Water Company (SALWACO), Mr. Samuel Bangura gave an update of the project implementation which he said started in late January, this year. He disclosed that about 25% of the total cost of the project has been released by the Emirates Red Crescent Authority and according to the Director General, they would be using the 25% to start and finish some boreholes from now to May in order to make some impact.
He named some of the rural areas in the Tonkolili, Karene, Bonthe and Kailahun districts that will be benefitting from the water project and suggested that video of the launch of the project be submitted to the UAE delegation since it would not, for now, visit the project sites because of the limited time it has in Sierra Leone. Many technical details of the project were ironed out after some observations were made by both parties. The SALWACO boss however assured that in fourteen weeks the 25% will be completed with twelve boreholes. “The good thing is that the money was sent at the right time and from now to April, we’ll dig all the boreholes,” the Director General assured the delegation.
The UAE delegation ended the day with a courtesy call on the presidential candidate of the governing All People’s Congress (APC) Party, Dr. Samura Mathew Wilson Kamara who had been very instrumental in the initiation of some of these projects whilst he was the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. They held a very fruitful meeting albeit behind closed door in Dr. Samura’s private office on Wellington Street in central Freetown.
The UAE delegation climaxed the visit to Sierra Leone with a farewell courtesy call on His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma at State House where a range of issues were discussed in furtherance of strengthening relationship between the two countries. The delegation finally departed the shores of Sierra Leone on Tuesday 13th February, 2018, while another delegation from UAE is expected in three months’ time.