Sierra Leone – the quiet fightback

His Excellency Mr Edward Turay, High Commissioner for Sierra Leone, discusses the improvements in his country and his optimism for the future.

His Excellency Mr Edward Turay is High Commissioner for the Republic of Sierra Leone; he has held the position since the beginning of this year and was previously a leading politician for the ruling ACP party

As High Commissioner for Sierra Leone I often meet people who think of my home country as it was a decade ago. At that time the country was in the midst of a well-documented Civil War marked by bloodshed and political instability. This turbulence meant that key indicators of development were amongst the worst in the world. Healthcare was a particularly shocking example.

During the Civil War (1991-2002) maternal mortality stood at 1,300 deaths per 100,000 and child mortality stood at 252 deaths per 1,000. Equally vaccination coverage was low and preventable diseases such as measles were still rife.

Sierra Leone looked set for a bleak future; few people realise the transformation that has taken place.

I had the honour to speak at the Houses of Parliament for World Pneumonia Day on November 16th to an audience of parliamentarians, government representatives, leading NGOs and other interested parties. I outlined that over the past few years, away from the cameras and media, Sierra Leone has been building political stability and pushing forward ambitious development programmes, which are transforming the country.

We have a new President, Ernest Bai Koroma, who since his election in 2007, has put redevelopment at the forefront of his agenda. This is particularly evident in our drastic healthcare improvements.

Since the year 2000 total expenditure on health as a percentage of gross domestic product has increased by 17 per cent and per capita government spending on healthcare has doubled since 1995, with a great deal of this improvement coming in recent years.

Last April President Koroma launched the Free Health Care Services for Pregnant and Lactating Women and Young Children strategy. This has had some impressive initial results. The numbers of children and mothers seeking medical health has doubled and the use of anti-malarial drugs for children has nearly quadrupled, increasing by more than 372 per cent.

We are striding forward and our maternal and child mortality rates have fallen by an impressive 31 per cent and 23 per cent respectively. I am proud of these achievements and they have been achieved with significant support from our friendly partners.

The UK Government firstly under the Labour Party and now under the Coalition has been a crucial supporter. Stephen O’Brien MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, has visited Sierra Leone and is aware of the help that aid and support from the UK has made.

Indeed Sierra Leone is one of the first 19 countries to be approved for GAVI Alliance financing to roll out a pneumococcal vaccine in 2011. This vaccine will help to prevent the leading cause of pneumonia, which is the biggest killer of children in the world. This is an important step considering that this terrible disease claims the lives of 8,500 children in Sierra Leone each year, that is 23 children every day.

So I am proud to say that Sierra Leone is a country on the move and by next World Pneumonia Day I hope to be able to report even further progress in tackling devastating diseases such as pneumonia, help which would have been impossible without domestic determination and external support.

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