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CSOs call for free healthcare to be entrenched in new constitution

By Patrick J. Kamara

As the process of reviewing Sierra Leone’s extant constitution gathers momentum, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), including Save the Children, have urged the 80-man Review Committee to entrench free healthcare provisions in the new constitution.

The current constitution does not provide a free healthcare for citizens, while socio-economic provisions are not justiciable. However, a free healthcare initiative was introduced in April 2010 by the current administration, targeting children under five, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

In a joint press release issued last Friday by Save the Children, Health Alert, Ministry of Health and Sanitation, National Youth Commission, and Women’s group, among other partners called for the continuation and sustainability of the free healthcare initiative for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five by way of a constitutional right.

The release stated that infant and child maternal mortality was on the increased in the country prior to the introduction of the initiative, but there has since been a drastic reduction in deaths.

The average number of outpatient visits at health centres increased from 136 to 1,375 a year after the launch of the initiative and that 2013 Demographic Health Survey revealed a decline in child and new born mortality, due to the free healthcare, the release said.

“The HFCI is the most significant initiative aimed at improving the health of women and children in Sierra Leone, and must be maintained and sustained to ensure that beneficiaries have access to it,” the further release stated.

According to the release, the free health policy has reduced huge financial burdens on pregnant and lactating mothers, enabling increased health services across the country and improved health outcome of children.

The release also stated that  Sierra Leone was among countries which are yet to have some degree of guaranteed health and medical care for its citizens established in the constitution and that if this is done the country will be the first West African nation to codify such in her national law book.

In a snap statement, Director, Reproductive and Child Health Programme, Dr. Samuel A.S. Kargbo said the sustainability of the free healthcare policy was their flagship campaign to ensure it is entrenched in the constitution, adding that they were committed to see that the Review Committee includes the initiative in the constitution.

Meanwhile, Outreach Coordinator of the Constitutional Review Committee, Mohamed Faray Kargbo, said the Committee will not add anything in the constitution that is contrary to the views of the citizens, as the new constitution will reflect the people’s view and not that of the Committee.