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Targeted aid in Sierra Leone

In these difficult economic times, the UK government is coming under increasing pressure to review its international development budget.

This means the outcomes and efficiencies of projects are being closely scrutinised. But though there are many calling for the spending of 0.7% of national income to be reduced, some commentators are arguing that the UK government deserves credit for sticking to its pre-election promise to maintain this level of development spending.

The economics editor of The Guardian is one such commentator and hails the willingness of the Department for International Development (DfID) to suspend aid where reports suggest UK money is being misspent. The editor also points to increasing evidence that aid is now better targeted and producing tangible results, especially in countries such as Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Senegal, where stability and debt relief programmes have allowed for particularly successful development programmes.

Another African country receiving UK aid is Sierra Leone.  It has only enjoyed a decade of peace since emerging from a brutal civil war in 2002. Nevertheless, DfiD sponsored schemes are already yielding tangible successes in the country, particularly in the health sector. Here, support for health services is helping to cut high maternal and infant death rates.

One of the schemes funded by UK taxpayers is called ‘Making it Happen’. This provides obstetric training to health workers in Sierra Leone and sends out doctors, nurses and midwives from the UK to share their expertise. These professionals give talks and help with a specialist training programme devised in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO). Training and practical sessions are delivered by teams from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, in partnership with organisations such as the UN’s child agency UNICEF and the WHO.

The training is designed to improve outcomes in all areas of obstetric care, making pregnancy safer for women and babies in Sierra Leone. The country still has the fourth-highest maternal mortality rate, with nearly 900 women dying each year for every 100,000 live births. By providing knowledge and information about best practices and promoting teamwork between obstetricians, anaesthetists and midwives, training of staff in Sierra Leone is already saving lives.

The ‘Making it happen’ programme has been running successfully in four other countries – Kenya, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and India. And there are hopes that this kind of ‘smart aid’ can be extended to more countries and help save even more lives.

Laurinda Luffman signature