Improving Health Care in West Africa

  • 04 February 2014

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – Preliminary results of the 2013 Demographic and Health Survey released in Sierra Leone indicate that the country has improved health services in the last five years. Compared with the previous survey, indicators - especially in the area of reproductive health - could put the West African nation on track to achieve internationally agreed development goals.

“The use of modern family planning methods among married women, for instance, doubled since 2008, from seven per cent to 16 per cent,” said Benoit Kalasa, UNFPA Director for West and Central Africa. “The same happened with childbirths in health facilities: institutional deliveries doubled from 25 per cent to 56 per cent in five years.”

Other indicators have also improved. Antenatal care by skilled birth attendants has increased from 87 per cent to 97 per cent, and deliveries by a skilled health care provider have risen from 42 per cent to 61 per cent.

“While data on maternal mortality is yet to be released, we are seeing encouraging trends in other areas,” said the Minister of Health and Sanitation, Miatta Kargbo. “These results will encourage all partners to continue to work together, to further strengthen our interventions and our methods, so that progress in the health sector in Sierra Leone is sustained.”

According to UNFPA, improved indicators in Sierra Leone reflect concerted action by the Government and development agencies working in the country. “We have helped strengthen civil society monitoring, which in turn leads to the increased availability of life-saving medicines and reduced contraceptive stock-out,” Kalasa explained.

“But none of this would have been possible without the leadership of H.E. the President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, who introduced the Free Health Care Initiative in 2010, enabling pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children under five to access free health care,” he added.

The First Lady of Sierra Leone, Sia Nyama Koroma, is also considered a strong advocate for sexual and reproductive health in the country. Her tireless efforts and visits to the countryside to promote family planning and institutional delivery have contributed immensely to foster positive change.

As another result of combined advocacy efforts, the Government of Sierra Leone has recently issued a Policy on Adolescent Pregnancy that empowers young girls to access information and sexual and reproductive health services.

However, the country faces many challenges. Some 38 per cent of the young women already had a child before turning 18 and teenage pregnancies still contribute to 34 per cent of maternal deaths. A recent review revealed that 50 per cent of maternal deaths occur in health facilities.

“We are working together with the government to build capacity in the area of reproductive health, renew structures, provide equipment and supplies,” explained the UNFPA representative in the country, Bannet Ndyanabangi. “These are our priorities so that we can achieve even better results in the years to come."

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