Yesterday was Independence Day in Sierra Leone, marking the start of the country’s fiftieth year since independence. It was also the launch of the President’s free health care initiative for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under 5.
I previously shared with you my frustrations and grumbles as we got ready for the launch, specifically about problems with the allocation of drugs.
In the bigger picture, this is a really bold and important step by the President and by Sierra Leone as a whole.
Making health services accessible to those patients who need them most is a key weapon in the fight to reduce maternal and child mortality.
There have been nothing less than heroic efforts by the Ministry of Health and its funders and partners, who have been busting a gut for months to make this dream a reality.
The launch itself was held at our twin hospital, the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital and afterwards the President made a short tour of the two hospitals, visiting the therapeutic feeding centre, where malnourished children are cared for.
A huge throng of mothers, babies on their backs, had been queuing outside the Children’s Hospital since very early in the morning. Crowd control has been a bit of a challenge, but everyone pitched in with staff and volunteers making sweeps through the crowd to pick out emergency cases.
On Independence Day itself, we saw around 350 patients, around eight times our usual number of patients. There were a similar number today (Wednesday). All the doctors were working flat out in the outpatient department, apart from one in the emergency room and one in the neonatal unit. The wards are full to bursting – three-in-a-bed is now quite widespread. The drug supply problem is being taken seriously and we are expecting a quick re-supply, as many useful outpatient drugs have now run out.
Fingers crossed that the outpatient numbers will calm down fairly soon, as is expected. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Emily Spry is a doctor from London who has taken a year out of her General Practice Specialty Training Programme to live and work in Sierra Leone, West Africa. She is working for the Welbodi Partnership, a charity which supports the main government Children’s Hospital in a country where more than one quarter of children die before their fifth birthday.