The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Sierra Leone las week hosted a high-level delegation from its Regional Office in Dakar and Headquarters in New York led by the Regional Director for West and Central Africa Ms. Argentina Matavel Piccin, the Director of the Technical Division Dr. Julitta Onabanjo and the Director of the Policy and Strategy Division Mr. Arthur Erken.
The delegation conducted a strategic review of the agency’s programs in West and Central Africa and examined the status of its transformative results in the region, including opportunities for advancing maternal health and family planning and empowering women and young people.
The review took place from 28-30 November and brought together experts from across UNFPA offices, including global and regional advisers and six Country Representatives from West and Central Africa, East and Southern Africa and the Arab States, as well as participants from partner organizations. The mission took a deep-dive focus on Sierra Leone and Niger and held discussions with officials from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation as well as development partners in Sierra Leone.
Reflecting on the meeting, UNFPA Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Ms. Argentina Matavel Piccin said that “the deep-dive was long overdue. Similar to other partners, UNFPA is soul searching on what else we can do to accelerate achievement of our goals. We are encouraged by the very ambitions targets set by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone to reduce maternal mortality to less than half of its current number in only 3 years. UNFPA reiterates its commitment to work alongside the government and partners to meet this challenging but achievable target. Because no woman should die giving life.”
On Tuesday 29 November, the team visited the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital, the King Harman Maternity and Children Hospital, and the Regent Community Health Centre to observe the functioning of the health care delivery system and engage with health workers and beneficiaries. UNFPA partnered with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the Government of the United Kingdom to support the construction of King Harman Hospital in 2019, and supports all three facilities to improve the quality of sexual and reproductive health services.
Following the visits, the Director of UNFPA’s Technical Division, Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, stated: “I am optimist for what lies ahead. The visit to the facilities was critical and validated a lot of the issues that emerged as challenges to progress. The visit was also an opportunity to chart a renewed vision and direction for the work of the Sierra Leone Country office and its partners. Although there are weaknesses, by and large we are on the right track, and I want to congratulate the Ministry of Health and Sanitation on the progress it has made and the priority it is giving to women’s and adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive health.”
Sierra Leone and Niger were selected for the deep-dive exercise given that the two countries face some of the highest rates of maternal mortality, child marriage and adolescent pregnancy globally. Sierra Leone is accelerating efforts to reduce its maternal mortality rate of 717 per 100,000 live births to progress towards the SDG target of 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.
“We as UNFPA have done many good things to accelerate progress on maternal health and family planning. One lesson is that we need to invest more in demand generation and in addressing social norms that put women’s lives at risk and hinder them from achieving their full potential,” remarked Arthur Erken, UNFPA’s Director of Policy and Strategy. He reflected that the visit provided an opportunity to deep dive into progress and challenges in the country and understand why some indicators have shown slow improvement. Sierra Leone, he said, has made enormous progress but there is an opportunity for further improvement in critical areas, including digitalization of data.
UNFPA’s Representative in Sierra Leone, Ms. Nadia Rasheed welcomed the strategic review, stating that “this was an important opportunity to analyse the organization’s work and contributions in Sierra Leone, and to set a corporate vision for accelerating the pace of progress to transform the lives of women and young people.” She noted that UNFPA has been a partner in Sierra Leone since 1971 and has made strong contributions to advancing national development priorities and improving sexual and reproductive health, with a focus on ending maternal deaths, unmet need for family planning and gender-based violence and other harmful practices.
UNFPA provides up to 90 percent of family planning commodities in Sierra Leone. In 2022, this support contributed to enabling nearly 540,000 women to meet their family planning needs, helping to avert more than 200,000 unintended pregnancies, 74,000 unsafe abortions and 1,600 maternal deaths. UNFPA has also helped to train more than 1,400 midwives in the past 12 years to contribute to ending maternal deaths, together with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the Government of the United Kingdom.