First Year of Sierra Leone's Free Care Policy

April 28, 2011

By Kim Lanegran, Sierra Leone Country Specialist

Pregnant women at a maternity waiting house in Sierra Leone © AI

On April 27th, Sierra Leoneans celebrated two important anniversaries: 50 years of independence from Great Britain; one year of  free health care to children under five and pregnant and lactating women.

Since independence, Sierra Leone has struggled from crushing poverty, human rights atrocities and a decade of horrible civil war.  When the war ended in 2002, Sierra Leone faced many challenges, not the least of which was that it was among the very worst countries in the world to be a pregnant woman or a child.

Amnesty International played a pivotal role drawing attention to the human costs of inadequate maternal health care in Sierra Leone and helped Sierra Leoneans demand reforms from their government.  Amnesty’s work emphasizing that maternal health is a human right and that other human rights abuses, such as gender discrimination, exacerbate the failure of health care delivery was crucial.

This work continues in Sierra Leone, Africa and throughout the world. Join us in shining a light on maternal health this Mother’s Day.

The government of Sierra Leone’s free maternal and child health care program is an important first step towards achieving health care for Sierra Leoneans.  However, the demand placed on the country’s health facilities reveal that huge implementation challenges remain.  Health care professionals are inadequate in number, skill level and distribution throughout the country.  Despite salary increases for some, they also remain poorly paid.  Furthermore, many clinics and hospitals remain poorly resourced and often lack running water, regular electricity and essential equipment.

Launching a free maternal and child health program is significant but work remains to be done.  Many human rights challenges continue to face Sierra Leone.  The government needs to make more progress towards strengthening of the health system. Amnesty International’s maternal health work in Sierra Leone continues. Look for a new report on the program – and new ways for you to make a difference – this summer.