By Emmanuel Gborie
Maries Stopes Sierra Leone (MSSL) on Thursday, 15th September, 2022, held training for journalists, reporters and bloggers across the country at the Sahara Hotel Conference Hall in Makeni, to review the role of the media in breaking the walls in accessing Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRHR) information and services and support of the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health (RH) Bill in Sierra Leone through proper reporting and communication.
The MSSL together with local partners supported the cabinet’s approval and subsequent parliamentary support for the passing of the Safe Motherhood and RH Bill.
The Safe Motherhood Bill, as a piece of legislature, enables greater access to sexual and reproductive health information and services for the people of Sierra Leone. Access to SRHR information and services gives women and girls the means to make informed choices about their bodies and reproduction which is the basis of an equal and fair society which offers social and economic opportunity to all.
Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, currently at 717 per 100,000 live births, and around 10 % of these are due to unsafe abortion. Most of these deaths are preventable with better access to SRH services particularly family planning, as well as other services that prevent unsafe abortion, such as post abortion contraception. Currently, 25% of women in Sierra Leone have an unmet need for contraception and there are over 77,000 unintended pregnancies.
Facilitating in the training, Emmanuel Jah, Marketing, Publication & Communication Manager, Marie Stopes Salone, stated that the Safe Motherhood Bill that is meant to legalize abortion in Sierra Leone, will curtail the dangers of unsafe abortion and the alarming rate of maternal death.
“As an international health organization that engages in direct health service delivery and also influences policy makers to make their work easy, Marie Stopes believes access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education can save the lives of girls and women in Sierra Leone. The media has an important role to play in disseminating the right information and support for Safe Motherhood and Sexual Reproductive Health awareness,” he said.
He said the vision of Marie Stopes is to have a world where every birth is wanted and its mission states, “Children by Choice, not by chance.
“Marie Stopes International/Sierra Leone having its Headquarters in the United Kingdom (UK) and being founded in 1986 is presently in about 37 countries across the world and focuses its work on women and girls having a key deliverable of family planning,” he said.
He referenced that recent Demographic Report records that out of 1,000 births in Sierra Leone, about 717 ends in maternal deaths and out of those 717 deaths 10% is caused by unsafe abortion.
“MSSL believes that encouraging safe abortion will cut down on the number of maternal deaths amongst other causes and a lot of women and girls have become victims of maternal death. Also, Demographic Health Survey (DHS) 2019 reports that family planning in Sierra Leone around 11% which is about just 1.2 million people in Sierra Leone while family planning in Norway is 98% and 94% in America and such countries with higher percentage of family planning are highly developed.”
Stating its core services, the Marketing Manager stated that MSSL basically works around sexual reproductive health services that are of high quality, affordable, client-focused for women men and young people, having passionate professionals, high quality services for women to choose when they want children.
He added that, family planning is one of the major services provided by the MSSL and provides post abortion care (PAC), maternal health cervical cancer screening, laboratory and ultrasound services, HIV and STI testing and can be contacted on it toll free line 3535.
“The MSSL concerns highly itself with the issue of sexual health among young people and 66% of the population in Sierra Leone is made up of young people. This number is a significant number especially considering the fact that youths are sexually active and face a lot of sexual reproductive health challenges and issues which has left many girls out of school due to teenage and unwanted pregnancies.Sierra Leone has one of the highest fertility rate ratios in the world and happens to record most of the lowest ages of pregnant teenage girls. According to DHS, teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone is at 24%. Sexual Health Education has several ways in which it helps to prevent girls from pregnancy because it teaches them about puberty, menstruation cycle, obstetric fistula, STIs and contraceptives,” he ended.
According to Foday Mohamed Sesay, Promotion & Advocacy Manager, Marie Stopes SL, there are a lot of opposing traditions, views, beliefs and misconceptions that are unfortunately held by people about access to reproductive health information and services which is destroying the lives of many girls.
He admonished that his compatriot in the media should cross the line in viewing the need to accessing RH information and services. He also added that, family planning reporters should have the right words and message for proper communication and should be well educated on Reproductive Health (RH) issues.
“So, far Marie Stopes is in every district in Sierra Leone, having 8 clinics and mobile clinics in 14 villages. It also supports about 177 hospitals with medicines and trainings and partners with pharmacies and also the media. It has established about 19 school health clubs in different schools in the country.”