A hut made of mud and fence sticks with a rusty, leaky rooftop is the Gelehun Maternity Community Health Post (MCHP). This seemly health facility caters to eight surrounding villages, which are miles off; and provides medical services for a total of about 3,284 residents from these villages. However, in these villages the first light a baby sees is the glare of fire from a candle or a bright torchlight radiating from a Chinese phone. Maternity Child Health (MCH) Aid, Bendu Sheriff, at the Gelehun MCHP, explained that the structure is dilapidated and there is no electricity. “When we want to do delivery at night we had to use Chinese light or our mobile phone torchlight.” For many years Sierra Leone has been on the bottom rung of the UN Development Program’s Human Development Index because of its poor health indicators. Nine years ago, there were 1,800 mothers dying for every 100,000 live births and 286 children under five dying for every 1,000 live births, the highest global levels globally. Mother and child mortality rates were unacceptably high, due largely to poor healthcare services and difficulties in accessing and using those services. However, the reason for these morbid statistics is the limited use of their healthcare services basically because of relatively high medical fees; Run-down facilities, that lack basic equipment and inadequate medical supplies and demotivated and underpaid staff.
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Former President Ernest Bai Koroma launched the free health care for children under 5 and for pregnant and breastfeeding women, dubbed the Free Health Care Initiative, on the 21st April 2010. However, nine years on since the initiative was launched some of the major reasons that gave birth to the initiative are still prevalent. For instance, in Gelehun there are catchment communities, which are in rugged terrain. The roads are rigged with crater size potholes and mud as thick as mortar, forming an abyss between the MCHP and these communities. “These villages which are hard to reach areas because of the road network is really difficult to reach and treat patient in these communities and it is also difficult for them to access the MCHP.” Also Gelehun MCHP has no staff housing, hence, “when delivery cases are brought to our residences at night we have to walk with the patient to the MCHP, which is very challenging and risky…” Furthermore, she noted since we’ve finished our course up till now we haven’t had our PIN Codes. Bendu appealed for the process to be expedited. As for the free health care drugs, she said that they are often supplied late and are not sufficient. What we do is when it is not available… “we write prescription for the patient to go and get it.” However, these challenges are not only unique to Gelehun; in Serabu, the Community Health Post (CHP) is also faced with similar challenges. Serabu CHP covers 15 catchment communities with a total population of about 6,227. One of the medical staff revealed that the facility is without electricity thus deliveries are also done with torchlights or under candlelight. In Blama Community Health Centre (CHC) there is electricity but the facility has no EDSA credit because they cannot afford it. Pregnant women are asked to pay for torchlight batteries in order to do delivery, Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) Service Delivery Monitor revealed. In a community called London, the MCHP that caters for 5,200 locals from 8 catchment communities has only one delivery bed and one postnatal bed. The facility is also without electricity and deliveries are done under candlelight or torchlight. According to the nurse, at times we would have five deliveries some of them will lay on the floor waiting. She said after delivery she would write the name of the mother on a bandaid and stick it on the child so that the babies won’t get mixed up.
By Ophaniel Gooding
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