The news comes more than a year after the country’s government brought in a free health care initiative aimed to guarantee all pregnant and nursing mothers should get free treatment.
But many of these women are still being asked to pay for drugs they cannot afford, reveals a report out today by rights campaigners Amnesty International.
“The health care system remains dysfunctional in many respects,” said the organisation’s Erwin van der Borght.
The report, At a Crossroads: Sierra Leone’s Free Health Care Policy, said that government figures do show that since the Initiative started, more women are getting antenatal care and are delivering their babies in health facilities. But still "…many women continue to pay for essential drugs, despite the free health care policy, and women and girls living in poverty continue to have limited access to essential care in pregnancy and childbirth."
The west African country is one of the poorest in the world and has among the world’s worst maternal death rates - one in eight women risk dying in pregnancy or childbirth and for every 1,000 children born, 140 die. So it was hoped when it was launched last April that free medical care for mothers would make a really big difference. Although there were, at the time, worries that the country didn’t have the cash or the infrastructure to make it work properly for every mother.
The government has tried to fill the gaps by doing things like raising health workers’ pay and giving them more training. However, without any effective complaint mechanisms or monitoring, there is still a lot of work to do
“A critical shortcoming within the healthcare system is the absence of any effective monitoring and accountability systems, without which reforms cannot succeed,” said Erwin van der Borght.
“My baby was crying a lot and had a fever,” a 23-year old woman who had just given birth told researchers. "Hospital had no drugs for him. Need to pay money. They chased me away. I don’t know how to complain.”
Sierra Leone came out of a decade of civil war in 2002, but rebuilding is still proving to be a big struggle. When it was launched the initiative was expected to save the lives of more than one million mothers and children.