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Free Health Care Initiative faces setback

July 15, 2019

By Frederick V. Kanneh

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The Free Healthcare Initiative that targets lactating mothers, pregnant women and children under five, which was introduced in 2010 by ex-President Koroma, is still up and running, but faces serious challenges, according to investigation conducted by Concord Times.

Secretary of the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital (PCMH), Mohamed Kebe, told Concord Times that the Free Health is in existence, albeit facing lot of challenges.

He cited delay in the delivery of drugs by the Directorate of Drugs and Medical Stores as one of the main challenges facing the Free Health Care Initiative, taking into consideration the amount of patients that flood the hospital on a daily basis.

He also cited the scarcity of anesthetic drugs that are needed to conduct emergency operations on pregnant women.

“As for the other drugs, we can improvise to make do with what we have, but it is difficult to do likewise in the case of anesthetic drugs because they are used mainly during operations,” he said.

For the PCMH Pharmacist in charge, Tracey E.C Jones, who was charged with the responsibility of distributing drugs to all the wards, he said the free health care beneficiaries were not getting hundred percent of the free health care drugs.

He added that the drugs supplied by the Directorate of Drugs and Medicals Stores were not enough, hence they used to supply less than the required amount to patients.

“We are constrained of having enough drugs. As a result, we distribute the ones that are available for Thursdays. Even though most of the times the request books demand for instance 20 drips for the week, I would end up giving 10 or 8 as the case may be because I can’t give what I don’t have,” she said.

 A nine-month old pregnant woman, who begged for anonymity, alleged that since she registered at the PCMH, she had never been given free medicine.

She claimed that whenever she was diagnosed with any complication, she was told that there were no free health care drugs at the hospital.

“The attitude of these nurses is not encouraging at all. Could you imaging, we have been here since this morning for our checkup and  even that other lady is crying of pain, but nobody has  attended to us. They are only attending to those that they are familiar with. They would tell you that this particular drug is not available but if you have money they will produce the medicine,” she said.

When concord Times further investigated the issue alleged by the patients, head of Ward 5, which is the Out Patient Department (O.P.D) ward, Kadiatu Keister Kabbah, denied the allegation and stated that her ward was the first contact of all pregnant cases and that they had never ask any patient to pay a dime for drugs.

She further stated that even in the instance of emergencies they were always coping with what they had in the ward.

However, Head of the Directorate of Drugs and Medical Stores, Michael Jack Lansana, confirmed that the free health care initiative was on, disclosing that they were even about to go to Kailahun district with 8 trucks loaded with the Free Heath Care drugs.

He noted that the shortage of anesthetic drugs was as a result of the delay by UNICEF in procuring the drugs, adding that they have been distributing drugs to hospitals according to request and based on the size and location.

He said hospitals were not getting enough drugs as expected because the directorate has 263 items on the list of the free health care initiative, but stated that at times, DIFID who funded the initiative would only procure 80 items out of the 263.

“It is only now that the government of Sierra Leone has started putting money into the free health care project since it commencement in 2010. We were giving 500,000 Pound Sterling in 2018 by the Government of Sierra Leone to add to the purchase of the free health care drugs. And for this 2019, we are expecting about 1.5 million Pound Sterling from the government to add to the purchase of more free health care drugs,” he said.

He added that if government pays   the amount of money as promised, it would add to the total of what DIFID would be given and in turn make more free health care drugs available.

He concluded that even though there were challenges to the amount of drugs that DIFID provided, but that there were still certain drugs like paracetamol, ORS, and others which were always available in all the hospitals for the beneficiaries of the free health care.