7 January 2014
I’m in Sierra Leone to document two health partnerships that are engaged in project work at Kambia Government Hospital, helping to improve maternal and child healthcare. Our journey to Kambia Government Hospital takes my colleague and I along red clay roads peppered with pot holes the size of bath tubs, past acres of dense green forest, and pass neighbourhoods with families going about their daily lives. The lush, rural and often idyllic setting of Kambia Government Hospital belies the challenges the institution, and the community that rely on it, face.
Sierra Leone currently sits at 177 (out of 208 listings) on the Human Development Index, life expectancy at birth is 48, under five mortality is 185 per 1000 live births, and maternal mortality is 890 for every 100,000 live births.
We are given a warm welcome when we get to the hospital from some of the UK volunteers currently on placements at the hospital. We are introduced to their Sierra Leonean colleagues and get ushered into a workshop for Volunteer Nurse Assistants (VNAs) and Maternal & Child Health Aides (MCHAs). The workshops are part of the training delivered by the partnership between Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (GHNHSFT) and Kambia District Health Team (KDHMT). The partnership has been funded and supported by THET and managed by the charity The Kambia Appeal. The partnership is helping to reduce maternal & child mortality by training MCHAs to deliver primary healthcare.
The passion and commitment of the students is showcased as each one gets up in front of the class to teach what they have learnt. Confident delivery is met with insightful questions and, although my Krio isn’t quite the best in the room, it’s clear that all the students will be passing with flying colours, going on to provide much needed healthcare in the local community.
My next stop is to accompany some of the long-term volunteers doing ward rounds in the children’s ward. The Kambia Appeal Volunteer Programme is the second partnership funded by THET and managed by The Kambia Appeal. Again, working closely with the Kambia District Management Team, the partnership uses skilled UK health volunteers to train and teach local healthcare workers and improve the quality of care for women and children in Kambia.
During the round patients and staff greet me with a smile, and are extremely accommodating when I ask if I can take their picture. The pleasant disposition of the staff is in contrast to that of the hospital. As I make my way around it becomes clear how under resourced it is, with next to no medical equipment. To highlight the point, a local health worker tells me about the time a patient came in bleeding severely. They didn’t have the AB- blood needed and went about asking patients and colleagues if anyone had that blood type.
With no one in the hospital having a suitable match the health worker rushed to the local radio station to put the word out to the local community, but no one responded. The patient died that day unable to get the blood they desperately needed. This story shows the fine line between life and death in a hospital that is so lacking in equipment and skilled health workers, emphasised all the more because if I had arrived a few months earlier perhaps I could have been a donor, as AB- is my blood type.
Later that day, I interview the District Medical Officer, Tom Sesay, who explains that, despite the many challenges faced, maternal and child healthcare is improving and the future looks bright, ‘I’m very optimistic because we are putting in place a lot of strategies and we are getting support from partners like The Kambia Appeal.
The Kambia Appeal volunteers coming and conducting this training has really helped to strengthen the capacity and skills of many of our staff. I think there is light at the end of the tunnel. We now have a lot of training institutions in the country so I think gradually the human resources situation will be improving.’
As the sun sets over the hospital and I take my last few photographs, I reflect on the extraordinary people I’ve met. But most of all I am inspired by the unique way that health partnerships bring like-minded, passionate individuals together from around the world to help improve healthcare for women and children in places such as Kambia, helping train health workers who will provide essential care for years to come.