Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New health plan for mothers and infants in Sierra Leone

The chance of dying while giving birth in Sierra Leone is one in eight, it is the most dangerous place in the world for mothers-to-be. To combat this the Sierra Leone government is beginning a free health care program to mothers and infants. The plan faces stiff challenges due to the lack of doctors, hospital beds and ambulances in Sierra Leone.

From the BBC, reporter Umaru Fofana writes about the new health care program.

Sierra Leone has launched a free healthcare programme for pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and children under five-years-old.

The plan is expected to save the lives of 1.25 million mothers and children, at a cost of $19m (£12m).

Dr Thorlie, who is also Sierra Leone's consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, thinks charging pregnant women and mothers consultation fees and forcing them to buy drugs that can cost hundreds of dollars has "forced us to act against our conscience".

"It is shameful the choice we are faced with sometimes," he says.

"Two pregnant women come to us for delivery. They are both in a bad shape but we tend to the one because she has money and abandon the other because she hasn't."

Since expectant mothers often cannot afford to buy blood and other basic items, doctors have sometimes been forced to let them die, "not because we wanted to, but because we had to", says Dr Thorlie.

Funding for the free healthcare plan has been provided largely by the UN and the UK, with the latter promising a year's supply of drugs and money to help ensure that health workers receive "a fair wage".

The UK's offer to subsidise workers' salaries comes after a two-week-long strike in March by public health workers over pay and conditions.

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