Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother. Lin Yutang
It’s over a year now since Sierra Leone launched its Free Health Care Initiative. In that time the project has provided substantive improvements in the delivery of health care services for women and young children across the country – reducing worry, easing pain and saving lives. This has not been easy and we all recognise that there is still much to do. The UK’s DFID is delighted to have helped deliver the improvement thus far and is committed to doing even more in future.
There have been significant changes to health care service provision, from urban centres to distant rural areas. For women and young children medical consultations, supplies and treatment are free for the first time, allowing many more people to access the basic but essential health care that is a Universal Human Right.
The figures tell the story. In its first year the project provided 3 million medical consultations for children less than 5 years of age compared to 1 million the year before. Of these, 1 million were treated for malaria, the leading cause of death in young children. The number of women delivering babies in a health facility trebled, and the fatality rate fell an impressive 60%. And there has been a 140% increase in the uptake of family planning, the most cost effective way of preventing maternal deaths.
Lives have changed as a result: Sierra Leone is no longer the most dangerous place in the world to be a mother. And the significant investment in the country’s young and vulnerable has given them the opportunity to live healthier and longer lives and become the next generation of leaders.
Partners are working with the Ministry to build on lessons learned. DFID has signed an MOU with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and other partners to improve transparency and accountability so that there is better and more effective distribution and management of resources such as drugs and medical supplies.
Sierra Leone’s success overcoming huge challenges to deliver free health care for its most vulnerable will renew citizens’ confidence that their country is changing for the better. And the UK’s contribution underlines the strength of our two countries’ long standing relationship.
It is important that we all recognise that challenges remain. But these are not insurmountable and the next 4 years will see an expansion of DFID support to the health sector, helping to free even more mothers and children from the scourge of preventable diseases like malaria and protecting them from problems and even death in childbirth.
A happier, healthier, longer life is what all Sierra Leoneans deserve. The UK is proud to be helping to deliver just that.
Ian Hughes, British High Commissioner, Freetown
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