ACC unravels challenges on free health care initiative face by people of Lungi and environs
The free health care initiative which was conceived and implemented by the government of Sierra Leone and partners is faced with numerous challenges both on the side of the service providers and the beneficiaries. This was unravelled during an awareness raising exercise by the Anti Corruption Commission and its partners: Health For All Coalition, Anti-Corruption Civil Society Interactive Forum and the Media Alliance Against Corruption.
This activity which was on the administration of the free health care policy, took place at the Masoila Community Centre on the 24th May 2012 with the Chiefdom Speaker, Section Chiefs, Women Secret Society leaders, pregnant women, suckling mothers, the doctor of the Lungi government hospital, nurses and other medical staff as part of the audience.
Welcoming the team of ACC officials and participants to the meeting, Chiefdom Speaker, Maylie Kamara acknowledged the fact that the Free Health care policy has been helpful in reducing maternal death and infant mortality, as the issue of going to quack doctors and the burden of paying high medical bills have reduced. He therefore expressed his appreciation to the ACC for such engagement that will help in improving service delivery in the Free Health Care initiative.
Speaking on the challenges, the community people unanimously agreed that the Free Health care initiative was a laudable venture by the government of Sierra Leone to ameliorate the suffering of pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five. Not withstanding that, this initiative has challenges to grapple with. Beneficiaries cannot access the free health care drugs all the time; the attitude of the nurses and other medical staff showing a lack of commitment, because the services provided are free; absenteeism of nurses in the Peripheral health units (PHU); and nurses levy charges on the free health care drugs and facilities, instead of offering them free. Above all, it was also observed that the government hospital in lungi has been without electricity for the past five months now.
Apart from the challenges raised by the community people, Mr. Alhassan Bakarr Kamara, Programme Manager of HFAC, and Mr. Sampson Saidu, Monitoring and Compliance Officer of the ACC who had been separately monitoring the dispensation of the free health Care across the country, in their presentations highlighted the following additional findings. The failure on the side of health workers to differentiate and account for the free health care drug separately, from that of the Cost recovery drugs is one major problem, adding that the free health care initiative is an extension of the Cost recovery program which was meant to provide free medical treatment for the aged, school children and the very poor people who cannot afford medication. Only forty percent of the money spent on the purchase of drugs was to be collected from the sales of drugs, while the sixty percent goes to the beneficiaries.
The other challenges observed were the lack of storage facility in the PHU’s and the local authorities in whose custody this drugs are sometimes put, interfere with them. The problem of unpaid volunteer health workers is posing another challenge and the issue of health workers running their personal pharmacy creates a situation of conflict of interest.
Health workers also made their constraints known and the challenges they are also facing as medical staff. Since the initiative provides for free service delivery, the number of people who visit the health centres is far above what used to be, thereby causing overcrowding in PHU’s with the limited number of staff and facilities such as beddings. The disrespectful conduct from people who come to access the facilities and the misuse of the free health care drug is another. Wives often come to the PHU’s to collect drugs for or on behalf of their husbands, and also the multiple collections of drugs by beneficiaries which are kept in their custody until it expires is a cause for concern. Nurses therefore implored the ACC and partners to do more sensitization on such issues, emphasizing their implications.
Early in her statement, the Head of Public Education Unit of the ACC, Ms. Koloneh Sankoh said man by nature is selfish, and has the tendency of having all for himself in a situation where something is free. She advised those in the habit of selling the free health care drugs and standing on the way of the success of the free health care initiative to desist from such, as the Commission frowns at that. She also encouraged community people to speak out against corruption as the culture of silence will do this country no good, and that the Commission is ready to receive reports of such nature and to act promptly.
The Vote of thanks was presented by a female nurse, Josephine Sia James, who thanked ACC and participants for living their busy schedules to be part of the program. She emphasized that whatever they have said in this meeting has in no way made them enemies, as it is all in the interest of national development.
Participants asked many questions which were responded to by the ACC and partners.
By David Kanekey Conteh
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