Magazine article New Internationalist

A Gift of Hope for Mothers

Magazine article New Internationalist

A Gift of Hope for Mothers

Article excerpt

27 APRIL

1st ANNIVERSARY OF SIERRA LEONE'S FREE HEALTHCARE INITIATIVE

Wearing a loose hospital gown, lye Kargbo is pacing up and down Ward Two at the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital (PCMH) in eastern Freetown. She is 23 and pregnant with her third child. This is the first time Kargbo has come to hospital for delivery - in the past the cost of consultation fees made hospital visits an unaffordable luxury. But with the launch of the Free Healthcare Initiative, medical services are now offered completely free of charge to pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children below the age of five.

Sierra Leone has one of highest rates of maternal and child mortality in the world. UNICEF estimates that one in eight women dies in childbirth here. Compare this to the Global North, where the rate is one in 8,000, and the desperation is clear. It was to bring down these needless deaths that the government launched the initiative on 27 April 2010, the 49th anniversary of the country's independence from Britain.

The result: an unprecedented increase in the number of women going to hospital. Previously such visits would have cost between $5 and $7 - unaffordable for women like Kargbo who live on less than $2 a day.

Dr Ibrahim D Thorlie, the consultant in charge at PCMH, says there was a 300-percent increase in walk-ins during the month of the launch, despite many women being sceptical. Social services are almost non-existent, so it was only natural that people would be suspicious. ? believe we saw about 91,000 women last year at this hospital alone. …

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