Bakey Kamara is eight months pregnant with her third child and has just walked two miles under a hot sun for one of her last antenatal check-ups. Nonetheless, she’s visibly excited on arrival at Konsho Community Health Post, a centre that’s just had an upgrade, including a new maternity facility. “I’m glad for this new building and everything in it. It really looks different and nicer than what we had before,” says the 25-year-old.
Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 1,360 mothers dying per 100,000 live births. 1 in 17 mothers in Sierra Leone have a lifetime risk of death associated to childbirth, according to estimates from 2015.
Dr. Brima Osaio Kamara, District Medical Officer of Bombali district, says limited health facilities in remote parts of the country are a major contributing factor.
“The distance from most communities to available health facilities is long. So people, especially pregnant women, find it difficult to access crucial health services when they need them,” he says.
Tackling maternal mortality in Sierra Leone, and meeting the global target of reducing the ratio to fewer than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030, remains a key concern for the Government of Sierra Leone. UNICEF and the European Union are working in partnership with the Government to address the issue.
As part of this effort, UNICEF, with funding from the EU, has supported the Government of Sierra Leone with a nationwide construction and rehabilitation project in 23 district hospitals, peripheral health units and medical stores, worth $4.7 million. The work focuses on rehabilitating and expanding maternity and pediatric wards, as well as constructing and rehabilitating staff quarters and medical stores, fitting all of them with water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, and equipping them with solar power.
“We remain committed to working hard to reduce the alarming number of women and their newborns dying due to child birth complications,” says Dr. Nuzhat Rafique, Health Manager at UNICEF Sierra Leone.
“This recent investment in construction work will directly help improve health service delivery for mothers and babies and ensure better conditions for health workers.”
“We know that buildings and equipment alone don’t save lives, which is why this is part of a wider investment in the health sector by the European Union, through UNICEF, worth around $25 million dollars. Since 2013, the money has been invested in training for health workers and health governance, and supported the President’s Free Health Care initiative,” she says.
The upgraded facilities were officially opened by the President of Sierra Leone, H.E. Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, on 4 February 2017 at a ceremony in Kenema, a major town in the south of the country.
When the Konsho community health post was established in 2012, there was no running water and limited space and equipment to attend to patients and clients, according to nurse Zainab Tity Sawaneh, who has been working from the beginning. “We had just one delivery bed so women had to deliver on mats or cloth on the floor, when we had more than one delivery. That was very uncomfortable for us and the women, and made infection prevention and control difficult,” she says.
Now the nurses, patients and even relatives who accompany them have access to the basic but needed facilities, including running water and electricity. In the past, the only way to light night time deliveries was by mobile phone. “There will be no reason now to drop my phone in fluids when conducting deliveries because I won’t need it since we now have solar power!” she says.
The health post currently serves about 3,000 people from 13 villages, but has now been put on a better footing to provide improved health services to a larger population.
The feeling of gratitude for the support is also shared by the men. “We can’t thank EU and UNICEF enough for what they have done for us,” says Musa Koroma, a middle-aged man in Konsho. “Now we, especially the women and children, feel more convinced to come to the facility whenever there is need.”
In a country with such high maternal and child mortality, making health services accessible and appealing to people can go a long way in addressing maternal mortality. For women like Bakey, the added comfort the health facility now offers is worth the journey from their villages and will help take away the temptation to deliver babies or treat sick children at home.
“Now I don’t have any excuse not to access the health centre. I feel even more confident to come here when I need to,” she says. “I am really excited about giving birth to this baby here,” she adds, smiling and pointing at her tummy.
Credit: Unicef Sierra Leone