Freetown — A 60 bed modern maternity complex for the people of Pujehun District and its environs has today been formally opened by Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura. The construction and furnishing of the maternity complex, which was facilitated by UNICEF through the Italian National Committee for UNICEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, is a significant step in contributing to the reduction of maternal deaths and boosting child survival in Sierra Leone. The maternity complex costs over $ 1 million and over 12,000 pregnant women and newborns will benefit from safe delivery and post natal care services every year.
The new maternity facility includes antenatal and postnatal wards, post operative and eclamptic wards, an operating theatre, a laboratory and a pharmacy. A borehole and well for the supply of water have also been provided with two generators and solar lighting system. The maternity unit incorporates a Baby-Friendly Initiative that encourages immediate breastfeeding after delivery and will also facilitate the training of skilled birth attendants including midwives, nurses and maternal child health Aides.
"It is unacceptable that so many women die in the basic act of giving life, said Hon Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura, Minister of Health and Sanitation. "Universal access to quality antenatal, obstetric, neonatal and postnatal care, and an integrated childhood care, can ensure a reduction in maternal and neonatal deaths in this country.
Therefore, every member of this community should actively support every pregnant woman to use these facilities so as to contribute to the reduction of the alarming rate of maternal and child mortality in the country".
Sierra Leone recently witnessed slight reductions in maternal and child mortality rates, according to the Demographic and Health Survey, 2008. Under five mortality rate now stands at 140 out of every 1,000 live births and that for maternal mortality is 857 out of every 100,000.
A nationwide assessment of Emergency Obstetrical and Newborn Care (EmOC) was undertaken in July 2008 and the outcomes revealed that utilization and quality of EmOC services were generally poor across all districts in the country especially in Pujehun. Infant mortality rate in the district is 212 deaths for every 1000 live births and under-five mortality rate of 352 deaths for every 1000 live births, both of which are above the national average. The district maternal mortality ratio was also higher than the national average.
"This facility, if used effectively, will contribute to the reduction of maternal and infant mortality in the country as a whole. With proper attention and investment, women's lives, and ultimately the lives of children, can be preserved", said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF's Representative in Sierra Leone.
"As development partners, we are committed to working with the Government of Sierra Leone in meeting some of the benchmarks of the Millennium Development Goals, which calls for prioritizing health care for women and children, and universal access to reproductive health services including high-quality antenatal, delivery, postnatal and neonatal care".
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation collaborates with UNICEF and other development partners in implementing the Free Health Care initiative which was introduced last April for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children who are under the age of five in Sierra Leone. This effectively waived user fees for these categories of people in every public health facility throughout the country.
A key strategy towards the reduction of maternal and newborn mortality in Sierra Leone is the availability of facilities in every district that can provide comprehensive emergency obstetric and newborn care and five Peripheral Health Units in every district, to provide basic emergency obstetric and newborn care.
A maternity ward was rehabilitated by the Government of Sierra Leone and UNICEF in Kenema District in 2005. That was followed by the establishment of two new maternity hospitals in Koinadugu and Kono in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Currently UNICEF is also supporting the rehabilitation and extension of three Peripheral Health Units in Pujehun District.