Sierra Leone’s free health care system remains “dysfunctional” in many respects, says a new report from Amnesty International.
The report, “At a Cross Roads: Sierra Leone’s Free Health Care Policy,” quoted a patient saying, “Nurses said you are wasting my time, and kick me out… I had to beg. But no money, no medicine…”
“They say free care, but there’s none here,” Hawa, a 28-year-old pregnant woman is quoted as saying.
This report, based on countrywide research, was launched September 6 at the Miatta Conference Hall in Freetown.
It said many women continue to pay for essential drugs, the quality of care is often substandard and disparities between rural and urban services persist.
The report calls for better monitoring and accountability, saying “reforms to the system won’t work unless measures are implemented”.
Amnesty pointed out that access to health care is a fundamental human right.
Sierra Leone launched free health care for pregnant and lactating women and children under five, in April 2010.
Speaking at the launch, Chairperson, Dr. Joan Shepherd, President of the Midwives’ Association, said maternal and child death constitute one of the biggest development challenges facing Africa.
She said the Free Health Care Initiative has attempted to remove cost as a barrier to accessing medical care.
‘Far more people are seeking care in hospitals and clinics’, she said.
Dr. Shepherd added the report remained silent on success stories and gains made since free health care was implemented.
She said there is a lot is going on to put corrective measures in place.
Amnesty International’s Rajat Khosla said the report is issued as part of an ongoing campaign to ensure women and girls in Sierra Leone realize their rights to maternal health.
Khosla stated “there are lots of gaps in the health care initiatives. There are not enough essential drugs and the system of procurement is poor”.
Free health care also suffers from lack of effective monitoring, he said.
He said this work is also part of Amnesty International’s global Demand Dignity Campaign, which aims to expose and combat human rights violations that drive and deepen poverty.
Dr. Kisito Dao, Chief Medical Officer, said Sierra Leone has been looking to reduce maternal mortality since the 1980s and implementation of policies remains a problem.
The report identifies challenges the ministry is already working on, he said.
Dr Dao said the challenges highlighted in the report have encouraged health workers to be more vigilant, and that doctors are making a lot of sacrifices as they believe free health care must go on.
Sierra Leone suffers from a lack of trained staff, he said, with fewer than 150 doctors and 150 midwives for a population of about six million.
The launching ended up with an interesting skit and a new song titled, ‘Amnesty International Rings the Bell for Mak we yeri the Children and women Cry.”
By Emmanuella Kallon