MoH, UNICEF Kick-off saving lives program in Sierra Leone

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Deputy Minister of Health (2) team from UNICEF and other partners

By Ibrahim Kabba Turay

In a bid to enhance the healthcare of babies in the country, the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) have Kicked-off the saving lives program in Sierra Leone.

The landmark event was held at the Freetown International Conference Center, Bintumani, on Friday 16th February, with the theme “Strengthening Free Health Care Initiative and the care of small and sick Newborns in Sierra Leone”.

In her keynote address, the Deputy Minister of Health 2, Dr Jalikatu Mustapha updated the gathering that the Special Care Baby Unit which plays an instrumental role in preserving the lives of especially newborns, provides care one level below that of a neonatal intensive care unit.

She reiterated that the unit has already raised the quality of care for newborns at all health-care facilities that is available and has helped clinicians avoid worst case scenarios.

“Since its introduction, the unit has given access to advanced medical supplies and equipment, from infant warmers and phototherapy lamps to vital sign monitors and emergency medications. And because the unit is attached to the maternity ward, they are able to quickly transport newborns in need of emergency care,” she said

Minister Mustapha continued to explain that those infants born at the hospital receive 24-hour care in a room separate from babies born outside of the hospital, citing strict infection prevention and control system that keeps patients safe in their delicate states.

“All mothers deserve all the care. Extremely premature babies need to survive, ranging from oxygen support, infection prevention, control, antibiotics, and temperature control,” she noted.

Dr. Mustapha added that the government committed towards sustainable solar energy, stating that the Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Austin Demby unveiled solar project that electrified six hospitals.

She said they will provide the hospitals with a reliable and less-polluting alternative to their current systems, helping improve the quality of healthcare delivery to patients.

The government, according to her, took up such venture because currently, hospitals rely on either polluting diesel generators or the main electricity grid, making them prone to power cuts that put patients’ lives at risk.  

She stated that that was being implemented by Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) in partnership with the Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health & Sanitation, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Crown Agents and EM-ONE Energy Solutions.

 Mustapha concluded her speech by assuring all stakeholders present that by next year, the government would be working tirelessly to ensure that all major medical centers are solarized.

UNICEF Sierra Leone Chief Health and Nutrition, Dr. Vandana Joshi, asserted that through the generous support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), UNICEF has established 14 SCBUs in 14 out of the 16 districts in Sierra Leone, to provide emergency care and treatment for babies born.

 She said the Special Care Baby Units are part of the Saving Lives Programme which aims to save the lives of women and babies by improving the quality, availability and accessibility of Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) services.

“As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, world leaders have committed by 2030 to reduce neonatal mortality to at least 12 per 1,000 live births, with under-five mortality reduced to at least 25 per 1,000 live births,” he emphasized

She said large number of pregnant women will need to have equitable access to high quality care by skilled personnel during pregnancy and childbirth. Newborns will also need improved care, particularly during the delicate first 24 hours immediately after birth, and the following 28 days of life.

Joshi emphasised that improving maternal and child health in Sierra Leone is a key concern for the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, supported by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners.

“We have been working with the government to tackle maternal and child deaths through investment in the training of health workers and provision of equipment and medical supplies,” says Dr. Joshi

During his presentation, the Director of Reproductive and Child Health at the MoHS, Dr. Tom Sesay narrated that saving lives in the Sierra Leone programme has been implemented by the Ministry of Health over five to six years.

He said on the aspect of funding, they have been able to secure funding from the government of the United Kingdom through the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The component supported through UNICEF.

He said that they have focused primarily on two major areas – procurement of essential drugs under free healthcare initiative and care for small and sick newborns through Special Care Baby Units (SCBUs).

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