According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 21% of Sierra Leonean children under the age of five are malnourished. The national under-5 mortality rate equates to 120 per 1,000 live births (UNDP), while maternal mortality – the highest in the world – is 1,360 per 100,000 live births (WHO). 37% of children under 14 years of age work (UNDP). Ill health and the pressure to work from a young age combine to impede access to educational opportunities for many children.
Sparse healthcare facilities are under-equipped, do not have sufficient medicines, and lack qualified medical staff. Throughout the country, there are less than 3 doctors per 100,000 people (UNDP). Many doctors and nurses move abroad in search of better living and working conditions, further exacerbating the chronic lack of professionals in the sector.
A major Ebola outbreak (2014-2016) further weakened the already precarious national healthcare infrastructure. The closure of almost all public hospitals nationwide, especially in densely populated areas, hindered access to medical care. Although the government has sought to provide free healthcare to pregnant or breastfeeding women and children under the age of five, in reality few have access to the medical services they require. In many cases, the bulk of medical costs continue to be borne by patients and their families.
In 2002, EMERGENCY opened a Paediatric Centre within the compound of our existing Goderich Surgical Centre. The Goderich Paediatric Centre provides free treatment for children under 14 years of age. Our patients suffer primarily from malaria, gastrointestinal complaints, respiratory tract infections, or anemia. Most arrive in a critical condition, as by the time they get to the hospital their condition has already progressed to an advanced stage. An average of 100 children were seen each day during 2017. Of these, 1 in 4 were malnourished. To date, the centre has seen 369,120 outpatient consultations and has admitted 21,412 patients.
In addition to providing pediatric treatment, our work at the Goderich Paediatric Centre includes the promotion of good health practices in order to aid the prevention of widespread diseases. Every day, our health promoters deliver informative classes and materials to patients and visitors in the waiting area. By taking a proactive lead, we hope to improve the general health of communities throughout the country.
A major risk for children in Sierra Leone is chronic malnutrition, which can impair both physical and cognitive development. In order to address this we have, since 2005, run a special programme to counter the effects of malnutrition and limit its prevalence. As part of the programme, we regularly monitor the weight of at-risk children; provide nutritional food to families; and teach them which locally available foods can be easily sourced to provide children with a healthy and balanced diet.
Our guesthouse hosts pediatric patients and their parents or guardians free of charge.
In 2015, together with the European Union Delegation to Sierra Leone, we launched a health education programme in 60 primary schools in the Western Area Rural District; designed to reach children, teachers, and local communities. Our staff organize informative classes on good hygiene practices; the importance of vaccinations; anti-malarial prophylaxis; and proper childhood nutrition. In 2017, EMERGENCY professionals delivered over 70 health education sessions in schools.
Furthermore – thanks to EU collaboration – EMERGENCY ensures that pediatric patients who are hospitalized on a long-term basis have the opportunity to attend individual or group classes with local teachers throughout their time in hospital, so they won’t fall behind with their school studies. They are taught according to the established national curriculum and participation is evidenced to school administrators by certificates of attendance.
2020: the end of paediatric activities in the country
In agreement with the local Ministry of Health and following plans to open government hospitals dedicated to healthcare provision for mothers and children, we ended paediatric activities at our hospital on 29 February 2020.
Over the years, EMERGENCY guaranteed free, high-quality care to over 380,000 paediatric patients.
We will continue to focus on surgical and trauma care in the country, where we have been present for almost twenty years,.
The ‘Soda Programme’ will also continue, aimed at treating children who ingest caustic soda, as well as cardiological screening activities for patients that are transferred and operated on at our Salam Centre for Cardiac Surgery in Sudan, thanks to the Regional Programme that is active in over 28 countries.
A focus group was also formed, together with the Ministry of Health, to maximise the efficiency of surgical patient transfers and an appropriate division of labour between Connaught Hospital, the main adult referral hospital in Sierra Leone, and our Surgical Centre.