The YWCA Hall was filled with an audience from Bonthe, Bo, Moyamba, Port Loko, Pujehun, Kailahun, Kambia, Western Rural and Urban, university students, health NGO experts, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and members of the press on Wednesday 9th September for a live radio debate on maternal mortality during Tok Bot Salone (Talk About Sierra Leone).
Tok Bot Salone is a radio debate programme which enables Sierra Leoneans to ask questions of their leaders and discuss issues of national and local importance.
It is recorded in Krio and broadcast on 40 partner radio stations across the country with an average listenership of around 800,000.
This month, BBC Media Action’s Tok Bot Salone production team invited the Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) Director, Dr. Santigie Sesay; the Chief Nursing Officer, Matron Husanatu Kanu; and Executive Director of Woman for Woman, Yema Baba Conteh, a health social care organization at Waterloo, to debate the role of the government in saving the lives of mothers.
The one hour live debate programme gave the audience and BBC Media Action’s Presenter Alieu Sesay the opportunity to ask questions on the topic: Is the Government of Sierra Leone doing enough to prevent pregnant women from dying while performing their reproductive role?
Producer Victor Gbadia Karimu said that the programme
was born from the many reports coming out on maternal deaths across the country.
MamaYe used the platform to share our Maternal and Newborn Health Factsheet 2015, MamaYe safe clinic t-shirts, posters and our Health Financing Factsheet 2015 with members of the high table and audience, empowering them with the evidence to hold leaders to account.
The audience raised concerns about a number of factors contributing to the high rate of maternal deaths in Sierra Leone. These included attitudes of health workers, the lack of blood in health facilities, blood services not being included as part of the Free Health Care Initiative, the shortage of midwives and trained nurses with the required skills in hospitals and clinics, delays in drugs supplies, poor quality of care, the bad road network especially in districts like Bonthe and Koinadugu, the lack of reproductive health education, and poor accommodation for health workers in remote areas.
In his response, Dr. Sesay told the audience that the government is serious about protecting the lives of pregnant women and newborns in Sierra Leone.
One of the ways that the government has shown their commitment was the establishment of the Reproductive and Child Health Directorate.
He acknowledged the audience’s concerns in good faith and appealed that everyone has a role to play in saving the lives of woman and babies.
He encouraged pregnant women in the hall to be ambassadors by encouraging their fellow citizens to attend antenatal care and by discouraging them to deliver at home.
Dr. Sesay called on all to take family planning seriously, as people should plan well before giving birth. He noted:
Children by choice not by chance.
Dr. Sesay said that with support from partners such as UNFPA and the World Bank, the government is currently rehabilitating four district hospitals and six basic emergency obstetric and newborn care (BEmONC) facilities to ensure that they meet the seven enablers for EmONC readiness.
The four hospitals include Princess Children Maternity Hospital in Freetown, popularly known as cottage hospital, the Lungi Government Hospital, Bo Maternity Hospital, and the Kenema Government Maternity Hospital.
The six BEmONC facilities are the community health centre (CHC) in Waterloo community, in Kambia district Mapotolong CHC, in Bonthe district Benducha CHC, Moyamba Tiama Junction CHC, Pendembu CHC in Kailahun, Baoma Koya CHC in Kenema.
In addition, UNICEF is also planning to support 15 more CHCs to meet the seven enablers package for BEmONC readiness.
Dr. Sesay called on the audience – especially men – to support their wives during pregnancy and childbirth.
He encouraged pregnant women to deliver in a facility instead of home: “The worst health facility is better to deliver than delivery at home”. This is because health facilities can quickly arrange for referral and handle complications during delivery.
He also said that systems have been put in place to involve the private sector to be part of referral services in order to make referral affordable and accessible in times of need.
The Chief Nursing Officer, Matron Husanatu Kanu, acknowledged accommodation as one of the major challenges affecting health workers in the field.
She added that the government is putting measures in place to address accommodation problems for health workers in remote areas.
Plans are also underway to revamp the Board of Midwives and Nurses, the body that has the responsibility to award certificates and accreditations to health workers. When this is done, the complaints of the public in terms of nurses’ attitudes will be looked into and addressed accordingly.
Matron Kanu disclosed
It’s not good news for a woman to get pregnant and die. It’s unfortunate for Sierra Leone to be the highest country in the world for maternal deaths. It is unacceptable.
She appealed to all to take pregnancy and childbirth very seriously to make sure that no life is lost during delivery.
The civil society activist Yema Conteh noted that
every woman has right to reproductive health and right to have a child.
It’s not a normal situation for women to lose their lives during childbirth. She called on the government to address this issue by investing more funds in reproductive health, providing equipment for staff, increasing sensitization on antenatal care, and making health facilities more favourable for health workers and patients.
At the end of the programme, the audience suggested some ways forward to the RCH Director:
- All EmONC facilities should meet the 7 enablers for safe clinics
- Nurses need more training on counselling
- Government to provide more ambulances for referral in Koinadugu and Bonthe districts
- Massive sensitization for the use of antenatal care services by the RCH Directorate
- An emergency number should be provided in all health centres across the country for citizens to make complaints about poor health service delivery
- Remote allowances paid to all health workers working in remote areas
Tok Bot Salone created a platform for citizens to ask questions to experts at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation on the effectiveness of reproductive health services in Sierra Leone and steps that the government are taking to reduce maternal deaths in the country.