Statement by His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone at the launch of the Free Health Care programme for pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children under five â€“ Tuesday 27 April, 2010
I am very happy to be here today on this historic occasion. For many years now, many pregnant women, breast feeding mothers and children under five have been suffering and dying because they simply could not pay the fees for the consultations, drugs and other services in our hospitals. Today we are taking the biggest step ever to put an end to that unenviable situation.
From this Independence Day, every pregnant woman, breastfeeding mother and child under five years of age will be entitled to free health care in every Government health facility in the country. From pre-natal check-ups to surgical services, drugs, vaccinations and inpatient hospital care, no pregnant woman, breast feeding mother or child under five would have to pay a single Leone.
Today, I also want to reassure the nation that I am determined to make this policy work. You may have heard hollow promises from politicians before about free services, but in the past these announcements have not been backed up by other actions. This time it will be different.
For example, we know how important it is that life-saving drugs are available in our health centres. So with the help of our international partners, we have bought over ten million dollars worth of drugs and supplies. The bulk of these goods have already arrived in the country and are being distributed around all the Government health facilities. For pregnant women, breast feeding mothers and children under five, these drugs will be available free of charge and I am relying on you the public and health workers to inform me of any malpractices in their supply and distribution.
Furthermore, we realise that the success of this policy depends on the skills and care of our hard working health professionals. For many years, previous Governments have not appreciated the vital contribution our health workers have made to the health of the nation. Our doctors and nurses have been underpaid and overworked. As a consequence, it became a common practice for health workers to charge vulnerable patients inappropriately to make up for their inadequate salaries. From today this will change. As you may have heard my Government has doubled the salaries of most health workers and increased salaries even more for our most skilled workers. By making this commitment, we the Government will pay the health workers so that the children and pregnant women of this nation donâ€™t have this responsibility. I am sure that the nation understands why we have accelerated health workers salaries like this but it is essential that all our health staff adhere rigorously to the new policy. From today no health worker should demand any fees from a child under five or from a pregnant or lactating woman. If this does happen, we want to hear about it. We are determined to make this initiative succeed and we would use all the powers bestowed upon by the people of Sierra Leone to bring to book anybody that is working against this health care initiative.Â Â
I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all health workers who have stayed in the country and worked in the posts, community health centres, district and urban hospitals to save the lives of pregnant women, to care of breastfeeding mothers and children under five. I thank you all for your loyalty, support to the health system and commitment despite the difficult conditions.
Distinguished guests, by taking this action today, we in Sierra Leone are one of the first countries in our region to help the women and children in this way. Last September when I visited the United Nations General Assembly, I announced our new free health care policy at a meeting chaired by the UK Prime Minister and the President of the World Bank. Five other heads of state also announced that they would be extending their free health care policies. But we in Sierra Leone will be the first to make this happen.Â I am confident that by taking this bold action today Sierra Leoneâ€™s health indicators will soon overtake those of many of our neighbours.
My government is making this happen because we believe that motherhood should be a blessing to our families, and not a threat to a womanâ€™s life. We believe that a child should be a bundle of joy and not a source of tears and despair. Let us secure the future of our nation by securing the lives of children; let us guarantee the happiness of our families by making pregnancy and motherhood moments of joy and hope. Let us commit ourselves to the success of this initiative and make it a testament of our collective aspiration for a better, healthier and happier nation.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great faith we will succeed in making Sierra Leone a better, healthier and happier nation that I launch the Free Health Care Initiative for pregnant women, breast feeding mothers and children under five.
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