Sierra Leone is launching a new health care initiative that offers free medical care to infants up to 5 years and to pregnant mothers. The program was launched on Sierra Leone’s 49th anniversary of the country independence from Britain.
The United Kingdom’s (UK) Department for International Development (DFID) is providing $70.5 million to Sierra Leone under a 10-year Reproduction and Child Health Care plan. From those funds, $22.6 million will be used to fund the free health care program over the next three years.
Sierra Leone is ranked as having the highest maternal and child death rates in the world. Its infant mortality rate is 89 deaths per 1000 births and the maternal mortality rate is 857 deaths per 100,000 births according to the nation’s 2008 Demographic Health Survey.
It has highest mortality rate in the world for children less than 5 years of age according to UN Amnesty International.
The BBC reports that free health care in Sierra Leone is expected to save the lives of more than one million mothers and children, at an initial cost of 19 million.
Ratiszai Ndlovo, Sierra Leone’s UN Population Fund representative told the BBC Umaru Fofan that although medical equipment had been ordered and some drugs distributed around the county, everything was still not in place for the launch of the health care plan.
“It’s not perfect, it’s not %100, she said.”
“But I think we cannot start the programme with everything in a perfect condition.”
There are also other challenges affecting the implementation of the program. For example, Sierra Leone’s bad roads and the lack of ambulances means pregnant women living in the more isolated part of the country are often slow to receive attention.
A strike by medical workers at the government almost put the initiative on hold. Workers staged a strike in March grieving their pay and working conditions. The dispute was resolved through a settlement with the government that provides medical workers with salary increases between 200% and 500%.