By Dennis Kabatto, CEN Reporter, USA
Photo courtesy of UNFPA: From left to right: Mrs. Helen Onma Mark, spouse of the Senate President of Nigeria; Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma, First lady of Sierra Leone; Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director; Ms Julia Bunting, Leader of the AIDS and Reproductive Health Team at DFID
New York – Sierra Leone’s First Lady Mrs Sia Nyama Koroma accompanied by Sierra Leone Health and Sanitation Mrs Zainab Bangurah, together with First Ladies, health and finance ministers and parliamentarians from 12 developing countries concluded a two-day high level meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York today. The high-level meeting was held to highlight the importance of a secure and reliable supply of contraceptives. Delegates from 12 high priority countries including Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Haiti, Burkina Faso, Laos, Mali, Madagascar, Mongolia, Niger, Mozambique and Nicaragua shared their countries’ successes and challenges in the field of sexual and reproductive health commodity security.
UNFPA officials say the main goals of the two day high-level meeting which took place in New York on 7-8 September, is to find ways to bridge the gap in essential supplies to save the lives and health of millions of women in developing countries.
In his opening remarks, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babantunde Osotimehin said “as of October 31, the world will have 7 billion people, of which 1.8 billion are young people, and 90 per cent of them live in developing countries. That implies that 1 billion young women are actively seeking the information and service we are talking about here.”
Launched in 2007 by UNFPA, The 12 priority countries are part of the Global Program to Enhance Reproductive health Commodity Security providing a framework for assisting countries in planning for their own needs. UNFPA officials say with more than $300 million mobilized so far, the initiative has helped many of the neediest countries improve their supplies. It has also encouraged governments to view commodity security as essential to their efforts to improve the reproductive health of their populations.
“Collectively, we are changing the face of maternal and child mortality in Sierra Leone,” said the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma, during the opening session at the UN Millennium Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. “The high maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone is partly due to the weak reproductive health commodity security system, including the non-availability of reproductive health commodities, lack of storage facilities, weak distribution systems for commodities and a weak logistics management system.” She noted that support through the global program has “increased the uptake of family planning and other reproductive health programs, such as fistula activities and the screening of patients for breast cancer.”
UNFPA assessment shows dramatic increases in the use of modern methods of contraception are widely reported by countries participating in the global program. In Niger, for instance, the contraceptive prevalence rate increased from 5 per cent in 2006 to 21 per cent in 2010. In Madagascar, it rose by 11 percentage points from 2004 to 2009, when it reached 29.2 per cent.
Official also say supplies are reaching more people in the right place at the right time. In Burkina Faso, the number of health clinics reporting no shortfalls or stock-outs increased from 29 per cent in 2009 to 81 per cent in 2010.
The two day high level meeting coincides with the release of a new report by Amnesty International on Wednesday, September 7th which says despite a nationwide free healthcare initiative launched last year, pregnant women in Sierra Leone are being denied medical care and forced to pay for medicines. In April 2010, Sierra Leone launched a $90 million free healthcare program that eliminates fees for pregnant and breastfeeding women at government-run health centers.
During her address, Mrs Koroma outlined her 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 Women’s Initiative for Safer Health (WISH). 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.”
Mrs Koroma expressed her gratitude to the Government of Israel who she said was encouraged by the efforts and commitment of her office donated four dialysis machines to the government of Sierra Leone and also offered to train five Sierra Leoneans (2 Physicians, 2 Nurses, and 1 Engineer) to effectively manage the first ever renal unit. She also thanked Mrs. Patience Goodluck Jonathan, First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for donating two extra dialysis machines to her office.
Her description of healthcare delivery in Sierra Leone is “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,” she said.
Still, healthcare advocates contends improved access to free contraception and user education is vital in the quest to reduce maternal mortility, which is essential if Sierra Leone is to meet the UN millennium development goals in 2015