Sierra Leone health situation is deplorable; worse with the country’s long standing record of having the highest infant and maternal mortality rate which is being reflected on our constant bottom position at the human development index.
More serious also is the acute shortage of medical facilities and practitioners in the hospitals within many towns and villages, which could be seen as one of the major contributing factors for the high infant and maternal mortality rate.
It is against this appalling situation in the country’s health sector where ambulances which are most pivotal are lacking that the African Development Bank (ADB) has intervened with the provision of five ambulances for five districts.
Speaking at the handing over ceremony which took place yesterday at the Youyi Building compound at Brookfields in Freetown, the UNFPA rep, Barnabas Yisa said the handing over of the five ambulances which are to be used at the district level will facilitate the referral system in the five project districts i.e. Bonthe, Bo, Kenema, Port Loko and Tonkolili.
He disclosed that “with full funding from the African Development Bank (ADB), the project on strengthening district health services is now in full swing of implementation.”
The UNFPA explained that the main objective of the project is to increase access to basic quality health care to the population of the five beneficiary districts.
“A major component of the district health system in this country is a strong transportation system for referral of emergency cases,” he said.
Yisa said, “the brand new ambulances are handed over to the five project districts through the Minister of Health Sanitation, Sheku Tejan Koroma.” He explained that with the handing over of these ambulances, the UNFPA expects that referral of emergency cases to secondary care institutions will improve.
“In particular, we hope that referral of women with complicated cases of labour, be it from the community to peripheral Health Units or from the peripheral health to secondary health care units will be timely so that neither the mother nor the baby will suffer from preventable medical problems and thus prevent the untimely death of either the mother or the child,” he explained.
As the minister will assign the ambulances to the care of the District Medical Officers (DMOs), he said, “we expect that we will use all the resources and power at their disposal to ensure the ambulances are properly taken care of, serviced and used for the intended purpose.”
He noted that UNFPA would like to take this opportunity to reiterate its commitment to continue partnership and support to the health sector in Sierra Leone for the government to achieve MDG 5 within the shortest possible time, so that there is improved maternal health including a further reduction in maternal mortality rate in the country.
In this regard, the UNFPA rep said “I will like to commend the efforts of the government and those of the health development partners, especially the ADB, a bank that is now fully ready to support the development of Sierra Leone, as we witnessed a reduction in maternal mortality in the last five years as reported in the 2008 Demographic Health Survey of Sierra Leone, which decreases the maternal mortality rate figure below 900 death per 100,000 live births. It is our hope that these ambulances will further help in reducing the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) to very low level in the five project districts,” he said.
ADB Resident Rep, Dr Samuel Ofori Onwona in his statement before handing over the keys to the Ministry of Health rep explained that “the strengthening District Health Services (SDHS) project is being funded by the African Development Bank to improve the health status of all Sierra Leoneans through the provision of support for the attainment of health MDGs.”
He explained that the project is to improve access to quality health care for all in five project districts. The attainment of this objective, he said, “is to contribute to the health sector goal by making quality basic health services available in target areas and to assist the government in achieving the health MDG, including reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases.”
To this end, the ADB rep said, “the ADB is happy to contribute its quota by contributing to the strengthening of the district health system; strengthening maternal and child health programs and supporting the management of the project to implement the program.”
Giving a financial rundown of the project, he said, “all together it is costing more than $28 million to implement the Strengthening District Health Services Project; and the African Development Bank is contributing $25.5million i.e. 90% of the total project cost through a grant, while the government of Sierra Leone is contributing 10% of the total project cost.”
He explained that although the SDHS was approved by the Board of the Bank in September 2005, the project did not become effective till November 2007 more than two years after its approval. The project was subsequently launched in January 2008.”
Despite the initial delays, the ADB rep said, “it is encouraging to see the project making strides to achieve its goals and objectives. By January 2009, one year after the project was launched the SDHS had disbursed more than $7 of the total grant,” he revealed.
Dr Onwona accentuated that the project was supervised twice in 2008 to ensure it would not fall into implementation problems as encountered by other projects, adding that “in this regard it is encouraging that the project is already beginning to show some results.” Recently, the project distributed drugs to health facilities in the five participating districts. One thing that is behind schedule, Dr Onwona however disclosed was that “implementation in training activities.” “These training are to be made available to health practitioners in the district to enable them manage the health system better, and therefore very crucial. We would encourage the project to take all the necessary steps to initiate these training activities,” he said.