As more children died 2013…

Efficacy of the free healthcare initiative questioned

By Patrick J. Kamara

More children under the age of five died in 2013 compared to the previous year, according to the annual a report of the Births and Deaths Department in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

The report states that the death toll of children increased from 1,034 in 2012 to 2,413 in 2013, with a slight decrease in still births in 2013.

The new figures will no doubt leave considerable doubts in the minds of many Sierra Leoneans with regards the implementation of the free healthcare initiative. The initiative was introduced by President Ernest Bai Koroma in 2010, targeting pregnant and lactating women, and children under the age of five.

While many has lauded the introduction of the initiative, which saw a considerable drop in the number of under five children and pregnant women dying as a result of lack of drugs in public hospitals and clinics, the figures have either increased or remain stagnant because of many challenges in implementation.

Thus, it is common for patients covered under the scheme to still buy essential drugs instead of getting free supplies at public dispensaries. According to Mamusu Sankoh, a pregnant woman at the Princess Christian Memorial Hospital, she pays for essential drugs which are supposed to be free. A lactating mother at the same hospital, Josephine Kargbo, told this reporter that drugs for some serious illnesses suffered by children are paid for, and since many poor parents cannot afford the cost, most children die as a result.

The lack of drugs in public hospitals could be blamed on pilferage and corruption. Hospital staff and other members of the public have been caught with cartoons of drugs meant for the scheme. Two medical stores workers and a dispenser at the main referral hospital, Connaught, are at present standing trial, having being caught stealing free healthcare drugs.