Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 February 2019:
Yesterday, president Julius Maada Bio joined hundreds of people at an event organised by the Office of the First Lady to commemorate World Cancer Day, at the Bintumani International Conference Centre in Aberdeen, Freetown.
In his keynote address, President Bio said that the event’s theme: “I am and I will”, is a statement that emphasises personal responsibility and personal empowerment; and is about inspiring individuals to action.
He urged everyone in the country to take personal responsibility, and called for collective mobilisation to kick cancer out.
The president said that he inherited a healthcare service with no cancer diagnostic facility at any of the government hospitals in the country; no radiotherapy services; and no comprehensive cancer treatment hospital.
He said there are very few trained oncologists in the entire country, not because the doctors and nurses do not want to be trained, but because they lack opportunities to get trained.
He stated that as a result of a severe lack of medical equipment, surgical oncology or chemotherapy services in the country are limited or nearly impossible to access, resulting in Sierra Leoneans spending $1.5 million every year flying mainly to Ghana for cancer diagnosis and care.
President Bio said that financial and emotional burden inflicted by cancer, are unbearable for families and for the government.
“As a Government, we have closely examined the problem, analysed it, and undertaken purposeful planning. We believe that cancer is preventable, and that Sierra Leoneans should be fully informed about risk factors. We also believe that because early detection and diagnosis saves lives, we must intensify awareness campaigns. There is no place for misguided cultural notions about the symptoms of cancer or stigma for cancer patients.
“We also believe that cancer can be cured, and treatment must be accessible locally in Sierra Leone. That treatment must also be affordable to every Sierra Leonean who is diagnosed with cancer. In addition, we believe that we must seek out and offer training opportunities to our selfless and committed oncology nurses and doctors, so that we have a critical mass of dedicated medical personnel for diagnosing and treating cancer,” he said.
President Bio also stated that his government has taken steps towards establishing a National Diagnostic Centre and a Radiotherapy Cancer Treatment Centre, through a strategic partnership with VARIAN – a US based organisation that is working in various African countries.
He said that his government has signed an MoU with VARIAN for the establishment of a National Diagnostic Centre to perform tests such as MRI, endoscopy, CT scan and other cancer-related diagnostic tests.
“The Radiotherapy Cancer Treatment Centre will cost €8.3 million. The National Diagnostic Centre will cost €11.5 million. The total cost is €19.8 million. Government has negotiated full financing for both projects that requires government to pay a 15% down payment before the commencement of work and to make complete repayment within 10 years at a low interest rate of 1.7%.
“I promised the people of Sierra Leone that all ill-gotten monies recovered from corrupt persons will be given back to the people of Sierra Leone from whom the monies were stolen. We have already invested money from leakages and waste into free quality education that benefits our children and into a free national ambulance service,” he said.
He recalled that last month the Anti-Corruption Commission presented him with a cheque for over 8 Billion Leones or $1 million dollars, adding that in line with his promise to the people of Sierra Leone, he would use that money to construct and fully equip a National Medical Diagnostic Centre.
“As the Commissions of Inquiry proceed, Sierra Leoneans will know where more of the country’s stolen money is and we will recover those and put them into education, healthcare, and food security that will benefit every Sierra Leonean regardless of party, tribe, or region. Every Sierra Leonean deserves better – full stop.
“Finally, I am also pleased to announce that the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has secured funding support from the Government of the People’s Republic of China to commence construction and fully equip units in two government hospitals and five peripheral health units in Western Area Rural and Urban, that will be dedicated to cervical cancer screening and management,” president Bio said.
With the theme: “I am and I will”, a three-year Cancer Impact Campaign has been launched, championed by the Office of the First Lady.
Speaking about her cancer campaign, the First Lady – Mrs Fatima Maada Bio, said that the theme “I am and I will” is about challenging every Sierra Leonean woman to be informed and be empowered.
She said that her office is working on building a dedicated cancer care centre in Sierra Leone as a matter of urgency, noting that because of the magnitude of the cancer crisis among women in Sierra Leone in particular, the construction of a diagnostic and treatment centre is a priority.
“We have engaged architects who have designed and developed an architectural concept for a 300-bed facility. My office hereby presents both the concept and the architectural blueprint to the Government of Sierra Leone for consideration. We must dream big as a nation in order to solve our country’s most pressing needs.
“Merck Foundation is sponsoring the training of ten oncology specialists at premier cancer-care institutions in India and Egypt. Upon their return to Sierra Leone after one year and two years respectively, local technical expertise around cancer diagnosis, treatment and care will be strengthened. We will continue to advocate for additional training opportunities for our nurses and doctors,” she assured.
Minister of health and sanitation – Dr Alpha Tejan Wurie said his ministry is working to reduce people’s exposure to the disease. He said there are plans to construct a radiotherapy centre in the country, that would help save the lives of Sierra Leoneans. He also encouraged people to improve their diet as a preventive measure.
Also present at the event were Vice President Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, Abdul Otongi Conteh from the National Cancer Registry; Madam Simingie Mondeh – a Cancer Survivor; Madam Tina Davis from the Well Woman Clinic; and Madam Elizabeth Bangura from ECOWAS Health – who has donated an Ultra Sound Machine to the Government of Sierra Leone.
It is always good news to the ears when efforts are made in the improvement of the health department. Taking into consideration the treatment of cancer, prevention is a rate determining factor. If we can prevent it, we don’t waste monies on cures. Good nutritional habits, lifestyle improvements, are antidotes to the problems. We are Africans, the word “cancer” is not in our vocabulary.
There are two important things to take away from this very important event organized by the first lady. Let us first of all start by thanking the first lady for her initiative. She deserves praise for all what she is doing.
The present First lady and the former First Ladies have always shown their desires to help in whatever way they could to improve the lives of Sierra Leoneans (be it women, children, health, food crisis, etc). Sierra Leoneans have always been in the centre of their hearts. So, we must respect and support them.
There is one sentence which is very important which the First Lady said, that few people paid attention to and that is this – “I am and I will” is about challenging every Sierra Leonean woman to be informed and be empowered. Empowering Sierra Leonean women is one of the areas that has been neglected by our politics for decades.
Men, have for a very long time have absolute control and command over women. The problem to this pathetic situation is due to tradition, culture and poverty to name a few. Poverty is the main problem. As we all know, the men are the bread winners (I don’t have the figures in percentage) and the women depend 100% on the men. So, the men can do whatever they want with the women who have little room to manoeuvre.
Although this cancer centre is a very good gesture towards not only the women, but the nation as a whole, I would like the First Lady if possible to find economic projects that would empower our women. Things like state firms and small scale industries will help a lot of women to earn their own money and have more authority in their domestic and marriage
There are a lot of fertile lands around the country. Take Tomabom and the scarcies areas. The Chinese are very good at farming and I am very sure they will be willing to help in establishing state farms where women will be employed and helping them economically. Thus empowering them.
The government can also help women with loans to help them with Small Scale Industry projects (for e.g making washing and bathing soap) under the supervision of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. I am very sure that the ministry of trade and industry has done studies on Small Scale Industries. If not, the government should try and make studies in this area.
Thank yo very much First Lady for your initiative and effort.
Secondly, we should all be clear about what the president is saying about how he is going to pay for some of the projects he promised. So, it will be very unfair to the president if we criticise him down the road or at a later date if he does not own up to his promise.
Read this statement by the president and I quote – “As the Commissions of Inquiry proceed, Sierra Leoneans will know where more of the country’s stolen money is and we will recover those and put them into education, healthcare, and food security that will benefit every Sierra Leonean regardless of party, tribe, or region. Every Sierra Leonean deserves better – full stop”.
We all know now what is happening with the commission. If the commission fails to do what should be done to retrieve the monies hidden somewhere by people who just kept them for safe keeping till the government asked for it, then the president will not be able to complete these projects as planned. He would have to find other means to fulfil his promises. The president has already started talking like a politician. He knows very well that there are people out there following everything he says and does.
The same with the First Lady. This is what she said and I quote – “We have engaged architects who have designed and developed an architectural concept for a 300-bed facility. My office hereby presents both the concept and the architectural blueprint to the Government of Sierra Leone for consideration”.
The only people who should be held accountable if nothing happens is the SLPP government. That’s it. Finally, the President and the First Lady have all become politicians now and talking politics. Should I think otherwise? NO. Talking to myself. I hope the government does all it can to make sure the president’s agenda goes through. Even if it has to negotiate with the opposition. I also hope that the opposition co-operates.
$1 million is very petty amount. We should be looking at over $2.5 Billion.
What a visionary leader is Bio? Presidential Bio is a visionary leader; he sees beyond an Eagle’s eye; says things with action-oriented plans. I pray that his team will not deceive him in the pursuant of his vision.
Getting cancer chemotherapy and treatment centers in Sierra Leone will help save personal and State monies. If history could make me bold, Ghana used to buy toothpaste from Sierra Leone; Malaysia exported palm tree seeds from Sierra Leone; Europe and the US shipped other valuable and enviable resources to develop themselves.
If we are not ashamed of the world powers, let us be of Ghana. Why always Sierra Leoneans fly to Ghana for medical? The response many will give is, poor health facility in Sierra Leone.
But, by his visionary leadership, My beloved mama Salone will soon be the envy to others in terms of socio-economic development.
Thanks Mr. Abdul Rashid Thomas for a well pieced report. Your existence is always noticed and meaningful to our land, Sierra Leone. Thank you.