Sierra Leone: Free Health Care Policy at a crossroads
Despite several years of peace in Sierra Leone since the end of its brutal civil war, women have continued to suffer. Available health services for pregnant women are difficult to access, expensive, and not trusted by expectant mothers. Corruption, a lack of resources and the fact that women are not going to the hospital have resulted in Sierra Leone being ranked number one in the world for maternal mortality rates. Thousands of women die every year from pregnancy related complications.
Amnesty International campaigned for and welcomed the launch of the Free Health Care Initiative by the government of Sierra Leone in April 2010. The Initiative represents important progress in lowering financial barriers to health care services for pregnant women. However, despite this step, there have been major implementation problems and many women are still without free health care because of mismanagement, corruption and a lack of public education. As the President of Sierra Leone highlighted, there is a need to identify “the weaknesses of the programme” so that collective measures can be taken to address gaps “that have lead to leakages”.
Without clear action to address the lack of facilities, non-availability of drugs, systemic bad practices, corruption and other challenges, the women of Sierra Leone will continue to suffer. Women must have access to the free health care services that are supposed to be provided for them. When they are denied care, women must be able to use appropriate complaint mechanisms that will result in real change.
Please write to the Minister of Health of the government of Sierra Leone. The current Minister of Health has a strong record on women's rights and activism. Call on her to continue this good work by:
- Conducting a systematic assessment into the leakage and stock-out of essential drugs.
- Strengthen monitoring, evaluation and accountability mechanisms to combat corruption and mismanagement in procurement, storage and distribution of drugs and supplies.
- Establish effective, accessible, and participatory administrative mechanisms in the health sector to receive and investigate reports and complaints from users of health services about the violations of their rights. Mechanisms should be developed and implemented with the participation of women and girls.
- Carry out a nationwide public education campaign to raise awareness among the population, specifically targeting women and girls, on the right to health and the government's commitment to the Free Health Care Initiative.
- Recognize the right to health under domestic law, ensure that it is enforceable in courts of law and that effective remedies for victims of violations of this right are available.
Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura