SEPTEMBER 7TH-8TH 2011
Executive Director of UNFPA
All Protocols Observed
Distinguished Ladies and Gentle men
Let me begin by extending my condolences to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Banki Moon the UN Family, the President and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the bomb attack at the UN headquarters in Abuja.
On behalf of the people and government of Sierra Leone, and on my own behalf, I wish to express our deep shock and sorrow. The people of Sierra Leone and the world over join you in mourning the loss of precious lives.
A few years back, Sierra Leone lagged significantly with unacceptable high rates of maternal and infant mortality. As a nation, we were at the bottom of the human development index. Today, I am pleased to inform you that we are moving in the right direction, and collectively we are changing the face of maternal and child mortality/morbidity in Sierra Leone. According to Robert Yates, a senior health economist in Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) the results in Sierra Leone have been “nothing short of spectacular.” In less than two years, Sierra Leone has seen a 214 percent increase in the number of children under five getting care in health facilities, a 61 percent decrease in mortality rates in difficult pregnancy cases at health clinics, and an 85 percent drop in malaria fatality for children treated in hospitals. This is the encouraging news that I want to share with you – that we are making gradual progress
My role as First Lady is to compliment the work of the President and the government of Sierra Leone. In the area of Healthcare, my office has developed the WISH framework. WISH is the acronym for Women’s Initiative for Safer Health. The WISH project is designed to improve Women’s reproductive health outcomes as many women are not empowered in making the right decision concerning their health mainly due to cultural roles and norms, poverty, lack of information and education.
Permit me to share some of the WISH components and interventions with you which are:
1. Development of advocacy tools and dissemination of key messages using radio and TV; artist and musicians
2. Community sensitization among
· Religious and traditional leaders
· Female and male groups and communities
3. Engaging in the construction and equipping of Birth Waiting Homes/Resource Centers. This is done in collaboration with the Rand Corporation through the African First Ladies Initiative (AFLI). These centers will improve comprehensive HIV prevention programs and expand access to care related services for pregnant women.
4. Engage in distribution of baby packs and nutritional packs – to encourage institutional delivery. As a result of these interventions, antenatal turn out in Mattru Jong hospital increased from 5% in 2009 to 70% in 2011. Likewise at the PCMH, turnout of women who attend antenatal clinic and delivery at the hospital increased from 40% to 90% over the same period.
5. Training of community health workers and promoters
6. Renovation and refurbishment of hospitals. Currently, my office is involved in the reconstruction and renovation of the Mattru hospital. The goal is to establish a medical center of excellence in the heartland of the nation. Let me state in passing that this hospital is in the opposition stronghold. At present extensive work is being carried out which is providing an enabling environment for the provision of high quality RH services.
7. Introduction of Community health insurance scheme that has progressively reduced some of the delays for safe motherhood and increased hospital attendance
The main challenges facing the WISH project are as follows:
A. We are encountering difficulties in mobilizing additional resources to scale up the initiative. Resources are also needed to strengthen the capacity of the Office of the First Lady.
B. There are challenges in sustaining the momentum among the TRL networks in their advocacy and institutionalizing initiatives for behavior and attitudinal change among the community members for good reproductive health on volunteer basis without technical and financial support
C. Timing required for changing the mindset of the people to inculcate the habit of taking their loved ones to health facilities
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
Three years ago, I had the opportunity to engage Traditional and Religious Leaders from all over the country at the First Consultative Forum in the capital city, Freetown, to discuss how TRLs could contribute to the reduction of Maternal and Infant mortality. This was my first effort in implementing the Women’s Initiative for Safer Health (WISH). This forum was the first step of the much cherished relationship and partnership that started with my Office and UNFPA. Since then, the office has received technical, logistical and financial support from the entire UN Family. The support of UNFPA has been invaluable and has led to the inclusion of my office in the UN Joint Vision.
Earlier this year, my office in collaboration with UNFPA hosted a three day Traditional, Religious and Young Leaders forum that advocated for better reproductive healthcare with emphasis on the repositioning of family planning, and we also launched the Campaign on the Prevention of Teenage Pregnancy and Early Marriage in the Kailahun District in Sierra Leone.
The rational for engaging Traditional and Religious is simple – more than 90 percent of people living in Sierra Leone are affiliated to some form of religion be it Christian, Muslim, Traditional, or other. Religious and traditional leaders in these communities are influential- They can help to influence the attitudes and behaviour of their followers in their communities for positive change. When we have the full participation of all stakeholders including community and religious leaders, we can encourage them to change laws such as those related to marriage and early teenage pregnancy. For instance, Bye Laws are being enacted by chiefs and traditional rulers that levy fines on men who refuse to take their pregnant women to health facilities for ante-natal visits. Traditional, Religious Leaders have formed networks which need to be maintained and sustained
In March 2010, my office collaborated with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation with financial support from UNFPA to launch the national chapter of CARMMA. This served as the harbinger for the President’s Free Health Care Initiative which was launched in April 2010. The Free Health Care Initiative is a manifestation of the political commitment at the highest level and demonstrates that healthcare is a key priority area for the President.
Madam Chair, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
The high MMR in Sierra Leone is partly due to the weak reproductive health commodity security system, including the non-availability of RH commodities, lack of storage facilities, weak distribution systems for commodities and a weak logistics management information system.
I must commend UNFPA and other health development partners for the results of the GPRHCS in particular in establishing the Logistics Management Systems for example the inventory and control management software, CHANNEL; that has improved the tracking of stock-outs and reporting of commodity, increased accountability in the use of commodities and improved storage conditions of 12 out of 13 district medical stores by equipping and making them functional. This has also increased the uptake of family planning and other reproductive health programs such as fistula activities and the screening of patients for breast cancer.
Allow me to share with you my recent success. My office is investing in healthcare that works. Through quiet diplomacy, my office convinced the government of Israel to donate four dialysis machines to the government of Sierra Leone. In addition to the dialysis units, the government of Israel has also agreed to train five Sierra Leoneans to effectively manage the first ever renal unit.
The best part of this success story is that my friend and sister, Mrs. Patience Goodluck Jonathan, First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, also donated two extra dialysis units to my office. I want to publicly thank her for her kind gesture.
As we leave here, it is fitting that we remind ourselves that Africa is the second largest Continent on our globe. Africa is one of the richest lands on earth, as far as mineral and human resources are concerned. In the remote past, Africans have been guilty of the sin of complacency and unconsciousness. However, I believe that today the continent of Africa is awake. There is a new social consciousness, a new sense of responsibility, a new sense of duty and obligation. Our presence here is an indication that the continent is awake. We want what is good for the people of our nations. We want the best healthcare systems. We want the best educational institutions for our children. We want better roads that will create access to reproductive health centers. In his message this year for World Population Day, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin reminded us that “Protecting reproductive health and rights is fundamental to our collective future and sustainable development”
With this statement in mind, let us leave here with a determined spirit realizing that we must leave our comfort zones and that sacrifices will have to be made for the future of our children. It is my sincere hope that this special session organized by UNFPA will strengthen cooperation and collaboration among the varied partners present here today as we are all living in a global village and we must remain interconnected.
We will continue to move forward in the health sectors of our respective nations because I truly believe that the continent is awake.
I thank you all.