By: Mariko Rasmussen, Program Assistant at Women Deliver
The Western African country of Sierra Leone is gradually emerging from a protracted civil war, which poses unique problems for mothers-to-be. In 2009, Amnesty International named the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone a “human rights emergency,” which at 1/8 is one of the highest in the world. But recent changes in policy and support from NGOs like Life for African Mothers have increased the potential for markedly improving maternal and child health.
On April 27, 2010, Sierra Leone's Independence Day, the government of Sierra Leone implemented a free healthcare policy for pregnant and lactating women and children under five. The country’s healthcare system had long been under-resourced and access to quality healthcare is beginning to improve as the country and the system stabilize. Dr Samuel AS Kargbo, director of the reproductive and child health program for the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, describes how the transition has been a learning process, but he says that Sierra Leone must, “Never lose sight of the goal. That goal is to save the lives of women and children.”
To support this policy, UNICEF provided technical and logistical support while DFID provided funding to help the government create a stronger supply chain for the health system. This is especially important as so many deaths are caused because women cannot access cheap medication that prevent post-partum hemorrhages (PPH) and eclampsia (pregnancy induced high blood pressure). Last year, a charity, Life for African Mothers (formerly known as Hope for Grace Kodindo), began supplying misoprostol to prevent and treat PPH, as well as other gynecological uses, and magnesium sulfate to treat eclampsia to several hospitals in the country.
Life for African Mothers reports that there has been an increase in utilization of services since the free policy has gone into effect, as well as a reduction in maternal mortality. Freetown’s primary maternity hospital reported 143 maternal deaths in 2007, 121 in 2008 and 106 in the first 9 months of 2010. One hospital reported 3 PPH deaths, and another reported 0 for the year 2010. Other initial successes are being reported as data collected in the countries’ twelve districts in the past several months show an overall drop in maternal and infant mortality rates, according to Abass Kamara, public relations officer at the Ministry of Health.
- Check out Oxfam’s photo gallery depicting maternal mortality here.