Assistance to Health Services in Sierra Leone Begun

River running through the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown. (c) Jarkko Mikkonen/Finnish Red Cross

River running through the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown. (c) Jarkko Mikkonen/Finnish Red Cross

The Republic of Sierra Leone is located in western Africa. More than ten years after the end of the civil war, reconstruction is under way, but further improvements in health and sanitary conditions are required. The Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) began to provide financial assistance to the community health services of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS) in January this year.

The country’s local communities have no electricity or water supply. Houses there are made of wood, earth and straw, and have no kitchen or toilet. Villagers scoop water from streams and relieve themselves in the bush. In these local communities the sanitary conditions are poor; livestock roam around garbage dumped at the back of houses, for example.

In addition, a large number of villagers do not have any accurate knowledge of health and sanitation. This also has a significant adverse effect, as these villagers take no preventative measures against infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, allowing these diseases to be spread unnecessarily.

Sierra Leone’s situation is complicated by the after-effects of the civil war. The average life expectancy stands at 42 years, while the mortality rate for children under five years of age is 192 per 1,000 live births; both figures are among the worst in the world.

Moves towards improving sanitary conditions and villagers’ health

Red Cross volunteer provides instruction on hand washing to prevent cross transmission. (c)Jarkko Mikkonen/Finnish Red Cross

Red Cross volunteer provides instruction on hand washing to prevent cross transmission. (c)Jarkko Mikkonen/Finnish Red Cross

Under these circumstances, the SLRCS is undertaking community health services. These are targeting approximately 4,000 villages in 13 districts around the country, encompassing five health fields: HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, water and sanitation, measures against infectious diseases and emergency health. In villages that have already introduced a health service, wells, toilets, garbage dumps and livestock fences have been set up.
Trained volunteer villagers provide education on health and sanitation through door-to-door visits and local meetings. The results of these efforts have been reported, for example, in increases in prenatal medical checkups and childbirths in health centres, and the spread of vaccination to children.

For two years JRCS will provide financial assistance to SLRCS’s local health service efforts in three northern districts.

Box: The CIvil War in Sierra Leone

The civil war was compounded by diamond mining concessions, ethnic antagonism and poverty issues. In a conflict that lasted for 12 years from 1999, more than 75,000 people died and 530,000 people reportedly became refugees. Civilians not involved in combat had limbs cut off, and kidnapped children were made to disguise themselves as soldiers and to attack people. These repeated inhumane acts shocked the world.