The Salone health sector made reverberating visibility last week-end all over the country with the launch of the Mami En Pikin Welbodi Week campaign. It was perhaps one of the greatest impact creating events of the year. You could see health personnel in every nook and cranny trying to let another mother and child live with smiles and not in tears. The health service delivery sector might have had a lot of bashing of late but definitely it is one sector that has been making tremendous efforts in keeping people alive. Let us just say that Salone is so cumbered with a myriad of emergencies that priorities are measured by how starkly staring in the face a problem is. There is a lot of what you may call silent emergencies that in the long run threaten our very survival but addressing them is postponed because of other compelling issues that seem to force attention.
I think it was late President Siaka Stevens who said that when you have too many problems to deal with, you shut all of them in compartments and you open them one by one and deal with them. You don’t look at all of them at the same time or you will go mad. That was some 20 to 25 years ago. Just compare the situation with today. In those days people did not know about things like tetanus (some people mispronounce it as “tatanus”). The name itself is as deadly curse as the last four letters in it… if you see what I mean. The health issue is no more a child’s play. You could have traveled up country over the week-end…weitin nar UNICEF…look cam pack, weitin nar nurse? Look cam pack! Look I must say that UNICEF is one great U N system that has been doing a tremendous job with especially a local partner like the Christian Health Association Sierra Leone (CHASL) and many other NGOs, Civil Society and MDAs, trying to unpack the health riddle that is defying every definition in our country. After the week-end’s country- wide simultaneous operations…after the t-shirts and banners, the advocacy and vaccinations, after the visibility and promotions, even an ignoramus bunkum clearly now knows that Sierra Leone has a health emergency albeit de facto. This is a fact we have to wake up to; it has been there even before independence. You may watch the video on Sierra Leone independence and listen to late Madam Ella Koblo Gulama expressing concerns over infant and maternal mortality as something that was at the time a national concern. That was over 50 years ago. Won’t you say thanks to God, doctors and nurses if you were born in the 40s and 50s and you can read this… oh yes you must kneel down and thank God, nurses and of course the teacher who taught you to read. Definitely if you have never been a good, nurse/ midwife or teacher…then I bet you have missed a whooping chunk of blessing!
We all know there are too many blockers and dividers in the operations of our country…in fact more of them than the well- meaning ones. So the health issue is not just a matter for the ministry of Health and Sanitation alone. Check yourself…see how you throw dirt all over the place like nobody’s business. I even think the Government should declare a health Emergency and put in stringent laws to curb the rampant sanitary and hygiene nonchalance that has eaten deep into our nation’s live wire networks. I can remember when Pa Shaki declared the State of Economic Emergency and people were sent to jail for economic crimes. Don’t you think the City Council should make a public statement about the position of the one hundred Leone fine for throwing dirt on the streets of Freetown? If you don’t think so then please don’t tell Pa Mayor that I ever mentioned a thing like this…indeed it never came out of an- out -at elbow and down- at- knee foot citizen like me. Do you know why the city is over crowded? Simple, the English language caused it. Why? Do you still ask? I will tell you…Citizens of course should live in the city…city-zens. You see the English people are very proactive though also conservative…they want every body to live a good life which every city should provide, even Tel Aviv which initially did not embrace the crazy modern trend has finally done so.
. Now in Freetown we have more footizens than citizens but that is another story I will research with the City Council. Back to our lovely kids survival.
I still wonder why that suckling mother in Yenga, Kamalo, Sulima and Moimandu Yawei Kotarya do not know that after working so hard for the day sweating profusely and rubbing the residues of her runny nose on her clothes and breasts should just easily put the same breast into the baby’s mouth. Our babies most times are dying not from the big killer diseases but simple hygiene and sanitation reasons. This reminds me of the kaykay dog. I hope they don’t exist any longer. Do you know what the kaykay dog is? I will tell you. There are always dogs around our villages for hunting and other things. One of this is actually clearing baby shit straight from the baby’s anus. The poor animal will lick the whole stuff clean and the mother would not need to bother. Now two things…I hate the way of the word but I love been alive in the world. In this same world while some people die of malnutrition, others die of obesity. In the western world while kids get bored with over protection and care, lovely African kids die because of the lack of it! Do you see how unlevel the playing field is (never mind the NEC level Playing field jargon)
Why our health problems have survived through the decades is because it ha so many intractable parameters competing to engulf it. Some of these are poverty, occupational hazards, governance, poor infrastructure, low wages, unemployment and king of them all is unbridled corruption. Do you know why Sierra Leoneans fondly refer to Anti-corruption as uncle- Corruption? This is a fair gender deal…we have more men in power and more men logically are corrupt, so why aunty and not uncle. You remember the voucher gate and squander gate scandals of the late seventies and early eighties or so? Well that was a chance to clean the country…but it was virtually a one man’s campaign that was hated by colleagues in power. The man of the occasion was Alfred Abraham Akibo-Betts. The many scandals he unearthed earned him so much hate that it got to a point where his enemies attacked his home to kill him. He escaped to Fourah Bay College for protection It seemed at the time that students ere the only friends. He lives on the student kondo until he was smuggled to Britain. May Akibo’s soul Rest in perfect Peace?
We are yet to see men like Akibo who transformed himself from notoriety to an unparalleled patriot who fought from within the one party system. Can you imagine in those days how people ensured secrecy by not signing documents but thumb printing? Oh sorry folks rumors had alleged that some noble men used to sign with their jaytees and not with their thumbs. Oh my God those were the days when civil servants stuffed their mattress with bank notes and slept on them… Sierra Leone has suffered! Our kids are violent because their grand fathers and fathers curses hunt them frantically. Each generation produces the leaders and children it deserves. Don’t call me unpatriotic. My Reverend father last Sunday preached about Pentecost and talked at length of one of God’s Gifts which is Fortitude…courage, the courage to fight injustice by saying it as it is. Back to the vouchergate and squandergate scandals. There is used to be an Inspector General of police called Bombay Kamara (RIP). He had gradually risen through the ranks and in fact was perhaps the best detective police this country has ever produced. He was a thumb print expert…you can now understand why some of our compatriots in power used to sign vouchers with their fat headed jaytees! Bambay was a man who could track down criminals like magic. And you know the police Force at that time was not as organized and professional as it is today. I am saying the truth, no matter what you have against our police those of us who have gone far beyond Salones’ life expectancy know the Salone police is one of the best around the continent even before Kith Biddle.
One thing about the police because of the nature of their job, they are bashed all over the world. Check the London police. Check London’s recent Royal scandal. You see policemen and women are the most transparent Saloneans…even when they take tips, it is done openly…very transparent eh? Let me tell you something a couple of years ago we had a big workshop in Bo at which we invited various players including the police. Corruption was been discussed on e afternoon and everybody was saying the police was corrupt. The police representative was there sitting quietly and twitching in his chair. Some of us felt it was unfair if he did not respond so I suggested and encouraged him to. He did and you know what he dropped the bombshell! He stood up and turned round the room half full of Civil Society and NGOs. He said that he accepted that some police were corrupt but that some of the Civil Society members were more corrupt. The police representative made the point that at least police corruption is transparent because you actually see the transaction whereas at NGOs one little signature behind closed doors will fetch millions of Leones. We laughed it over but you could see the guilt on some members of the civil society. Like corruption it is so difficult to track strategies to reduce child and maternal mortality. It seems as difficult and fruitless like attempting to clear garbage at Mabella or Kroo bay. You may raise hundred issues but the problem will continue to defy every definition.
Let us ask some questions now. Why are people including kids living among pigs and other filthy rodents in Mabella and Kroo Bay? Answers… because they have no where else to live. Why? Because the city is over populated. Why? Because as citizens of our country we should all live in cities. Why? Because the country side has been taken over by animals to promote biodiversity. Why? Animals don’t need roads or vehicles to move from place to place so it is easier to keep the country side under developed and develop the cities…quite cost effective and helps our environmental strives. Why? When people tried to link President Obama with Sierra Leone it did not work but the wife Nicole they say has Gulla connection and Sierra Leone has a stronger Gulla case than Ghana. Why? If Nicole accepts the Sierra Leone Connection America will extend Obama’s bail out packages to us and get more Nigerian owned banks to Sierra Leone. Why? That will open up jobs for the youth. Why? That is the singular headache of president Koroma at the moment. Why? Because the party’s Manifesto refers to the youth unemployment situation as a time bomb, waiting to explode.
Why? I don’t know…just follow-up the process of getting the National Youth commission set up. The greatest thing to happen is that by the time our current children become youth everything would have been in place. Please don’t ask me how. Now I want to remember a late friend, John Kolosa Kargbo…Play Wright, dramatist, poet and socio- political Commentator and foremost Critic of the one party excesses. He was loved by patriots and hated by evil men. He left a legacy that many people do not know. It was he who suggested to the Sierra Leone Police to use special number plates on their vehicles bearing the letters SLP for easy identification. They never listened to him until and after years when he had gone to Nigeria…call it on self exile. What’s the connection with children? You could see the late man carrying children on his shoulder as some help at a time kids could not use taxis because their parents could not afford. But also he used the occasions to do some counseling of the kids. You could hear them calling him uncle JK. This piece is a special dedication to all nurses and Midwives and their partners in health like UNICEF…especially those who took part in the mami en pikin welbodi week.
By S. Beny SAM