First Lady Sia Koroma talks about the UN Reproductive Health High-Level Meeting and the status of health care in Sierra Leone

First Lady of the Republic of Sierra LeoneFirst Lady Madam Sia Nyama Koroma has returned to Sierra Leone after attending the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA ) High-level Sexual and Reproductive Health Meeting held at the UN Headquarters in New York last week. On Friday September 9, the First Lady gave COCORIOKO an exclusive interview that covered the High-Level Meeting, its implications for Sierra Leone and the status of health care delivery in the country. We bring you PART 1 of the interview.

COCORIOKO : Madam First Lady , welcome to New York and the UNFPA High-Level Meeting. What is the implication of this meeting for Sierra Leone ?

MADAM SIA KOROMA : Sierra Leone has been categorized as a Stream 1 Country so we are hoping that funding is going to be enhanced for Reproductive sexual health services. We have shared our experiences in strategic plans in reproductive health (Maternal) and at the end of the day we are going to speak with one voice for more money to be spent on us and to work as a team.

COCORIOKO : This meeting also has to do with the distribution of drug supplies to those who need them . How is Government handling the problems of distributiion recently highlighted by Amnesty International ?

MADAM SIA KOROMA : Sierra Leone is a recepient of Free health care after my husband, President Koroma launched it for lactating mothers, pregnant women and children under 5 last year but in any new thing there are teething problems so you have to expect these situations .Any new system will have lapses . However, most of the targetted population are now getting free health care and the drugs. We have problems with Water Quay and the handling of drugs but President Koroma has warned that anybody caught pilfering will be brought to justice.

COCORIOKO : You are right that any new thing certainly has problems. Are there positive aspects and achievements that Amnesty International failed to highlight ?

MADAM SIA KOROMA : There are lots of achievements . There is increased utilization of services .A lot of people are going to people are going to hospital now and there is a marked decrease in maternal death. The Government has strenghtened the capacity of hospitals because the salaries of health personnel have been increased. So the services are far better now than they were before. There has been a refurbishing of hospitals and increase in the infrastructure of hospitals. Everything is now computerized .Channel software has been introduced to monitor drugs distribution so these are all the novelties we now have in Sierra Leone and people are just talking nonsense.

COCORIOKO : Do you have other targets set for the future ?

MADAM SIA KOROMA : We are targetting more support to enhance our progress. One of my advocacy programs is to use sensitization techniques , traditional and religious sectors and young leaders to reposition family planning and prevent teenage pregnancies sexual health issues, early marriage etc.

COCORIOKO : Early marriage is a very serious problem because it is tied to tradition. How do you overcome the tradition barrier to convince people that early marriage is harmful ?

MADAM SIA KOROMA : You are right that it is a big problem, but we use a holistic approach .We involve traditional leaders, religious leaders and social and health personnel .

COCORIOKO : Another serious problem is teenage pregnancies .

MADAM SIA KOROMA : That is exactly so. These are problems we are also fighting. We even have representatives from the non-formal system to empower our girls to become more educated. Most of these problems occur because of lack of knowledge of the consequences of unprotected sex and promiscuity. As First Lady , I am an interface between government and the people. I use my unique position to advocate for better health.