Maternal Health

Maternal Health: Better healthcare for mothers and babies in Kailahun District

Sierra Leone is one of the least developed countries in the world and the quality of healthcare available to most people is very poor. Although the government established a healthcare system shortly after the end of the civil war in 2002, little has been done to develop medical services, particularly in rural areas where people often do not have access to healthcare facilities at all.

An unused hospital room
An unused hospital room - © Jake Allen/Christian Aid

The situation is particularly serious for expectant mothers, babies and young children. The numbers of women who die in childbirth and children who die before their fifth birthday are among the highest in the world. In Kailahun District, the poorest district in the country, less than 32 per cent of babies were delivered by a skilled birth attendant in 2008 and neither of its two hospitals is able to provide comprehensive care to pregnant women and those in labour. Only one ambulance is available at one of the hospitals, so many mothers and their young children are unable to get to the hospital at all. For those who make it there, an inconsistent power supply and a shortage of safe, clean water mean that medical care is seriously compromised, while basic health and hygiene practices are often overlooked because of staff shortages and poor training.

Our recently launched Maternal Health Partnership Project is your chance to make a difference. This exciting initiative is seeking to improve the quality of health and emergency obstetric care services to communities in Kailahun District. Part funded by the European Union and implemented by Christian Aid’s long-term partners the Methodist Church of Sierra Leone (MCSL) and the Social Enterprise and Development Foundation (SEND), the project aims to transform local healthcare services.

Through MCSL and SEND, the project will improve facilities in both main hospitals, ensuring safe running water to all wards and providing a reliable electricity supply. Two additional ambulances will be purchased and hospital staff will receive training to improve their skills.

Once facilities at the hospitals and health centres have improved, awareness training in communities will encourage women to consider hospital care instead of seeking an untrained traditional healer and to get medical assistance promptly when needed. Communities will be taught how to assess the quality of healthcare available and how to lobby the government for improvements, based on what has been promised in local plans, while local government staff will be taught new skills to monitor the level of service provided.

A children's ward in the Kailahun District hospital
A children's ward in the Kailahun District hospital - © Jake Allen/Christian Aid

The picture (right) shows the children’s ward at the main Kailahun hospital. The ward provides little privacy for patients and the atmosphere is dark, unbearably hot and uninviting – an unsettling experience for a child or teenager entering hospital for the first time. The project intends to improve facilities throughout the hospital, benefiting all patients and in particular children.

Christian Aid partners have worked alongside Sierra Leonean communities to tackle the issues of healthcare before. In 2008, Kawa Monday who lives just outside of Koidu, north of Kailahun, experienced difficulties in her last pregnancy. She tells us: ‘When I was pregnant with this baby, I went to the hospital but I could not continue because I was not able to afford the charges they made.’

Through the work of our partner Network Movement for Justice and Development, government were held to account on their policies of free healthcare to pregnant women and children under five. Kawa is not alone when she says: ‘I would like somebody who can help support the family in terms of medical services or facilities.’ Our maternal health project in Kailahun and our partner MCSL are determined to do just that for thousands more and with your help will be just as successful.

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