Red Cross helps strengthen Sierra Leone’s broken healthcare system

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 May 2015

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With basic and essential health services strained by the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, the Red Cross is taking steps to help reconnect communities with basic health services. (Photo: Dilapidated admission ward at the Connaught hospital in Freetown at the start of the Ebola outbreak).

Most health programmes stopped when the Ebola epidemic began one year ago, and are only now starting up again.

“Not only did hundreds of health care workers lose their lives to the disease, parents became frightened to take their children for regular vaccinations, believing they might become infected with Ebola.

“Consequently, a large number of young children have missed out on their measles vaccination and remain vulnerable should there be an outbreak,” said Moulaye Camara, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Sierra Leone.

Beginning 29 May, and as part of a mass measles immunization campaign, volunteers with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society will go door-to-door to check for unvaccinated children.

Their parents will then be encouraged to take them to the mobile health units which are being deployed by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to villages across the country.

Aimed at reaching 1.5 million children, volunteers will explain to parents the need to protect their children against diseases other than Ebola.

Red Cross“Red Cross volunteers are trusted and respected voices within their communities and can play a key role in regaining the confidence of parents in national immunization programmes,” said Camara.

The week-long campaign follows from a four-day campaign at the start of May during which Red Cross volunteers raised awareness about the importance of measles vaccinations in communities across the country. That exercise is already resulting in positive changes in behaviour.

“Parents are coming back to the hospitals because they have started to trust again and appreciate us. They want to keep their children safe from diseases like measles,” said Melisand Bascho George, a child and maternal health nurse in Freetown.

To match feature WATER-LEONESierra Leone has one of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the world with a maternal mortality ratio of 1,165 per 100,000 live births, and an under 5 mortality rate of 156 per 1,000 live births. (WHO / Global Health Observatory 2013)

It has been one year since Ebola arrived in Sierra Leone, and while the Red Cross continues to respond to new Ebola cases, it is also planning for recovery which will, in part, include collaborating with government and other partners to strengthen the country’s broken healthcare system.

“The Red Cross can play a vital role in ensuring community health programmes are stronger than they were before Ebola,” added Camara.

“Our trained volunteers can rapidly deliver crucial and culturally sensitive health messages, enabling communities to make informed decisions about their health care. We must ensure that Red Cross volunteers are integrated into community health systems as they begin to recover.”

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