Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Bockarie Kortu Stevens has lashed the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party ( SLPP ) press for trying to politicise the country’s alarming maternal deaths.
Ambassador Stevens expressed surprise that the SLPP would even try to politicize a disaster the All People’s Congress (APC) government inherited from the very SLPP.
In an exclusive interview with COCORIOKO, Mr. Stevens said that Sierra Leone’s very high and pathetic maternal deaths problem was a rollover from the SLPP rule. “The APC inherited the problem from the SLPP”, Ambassador Stevens emphasized and the WASHINGTON POST article highlighting the problem, he asserted, was not an indictment of the APC government. “Rather, the newspaper was reporting on a problem we too were aware we had inherited from the previous government.”
On Sunday October 12, 2008, the WASHINGTON POST had a special Feature on maternal deaths in underdeveloped countries, focusing especially on Sierra Leone, which the paper stated, has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world. Commenting on the veracity of the report, the Ambassador said that this information was not news to any Sierra Leonean. As a matter of fact, Mr. Stevens went on, President Ernest Bai Koroma acknowledged the problem when he addressed important town meetings at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the American University in Washington DC last month. If our detractors could notice, President Koroma is practicing an OPEN GOVERNMENT INITIATIVE and he has even established the Open Government Initiative Office at State House, with United Nations funding. The APC government has nothing to hide and President Koroma acknowledged the problem in America last month. and the fact is that the APC inherited the problem from the SLPP government “.
Ambassador Stevens said that President Koroma even went on to enumerate all the factors causing these health care delivery problems in Sierra Leone, like the poor conditions of service for doctors and nurses which forces doctors and nurses trained by the country to seek greener pastures abroad. The President also named the lack of medical equipments and the inability of previous governments to provide essential drugs in the country’s hospitals.
President Koroma did not stop at just highlighting the causes of the problem, the Ambassador stated. Rather, President Koroma announced steps his government was taking to remedy the situation. The President told his audience in New Jersey and Washington DC that his government had just concluded plans for 50 doctors from Nigeria and Cuba to go to Sierra Leone. The Ambassador therefore felt that the SLPP press was deceitful to its readers by telling them that the government, instead of addressing the problem, was involved in lavish lifestyles. He indicated that the APC government had already started to address the problem and he found it unfair to the government and unprofessional for the SLPP to try to create the impression that the government did not care about the problem.
Ambassador Stevens told COCORIOKO that even right now the government has distributed 200 motorcycles and 20 vehicles to hospitals and health care centres all over the country. These vehicles are meant to help health care personnel become more mobile and to give them the capacity to go to the remote parts of the country to provide treatment to people. The government was also making efforts to equip the hospitals with drugs and medical tools.
Ambassador Stevens said that by next year the government hopes to have reduced the rate of maternal fatalities in Sierra Leone, which was infact part of the government’s plan to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Mr. Stevens said that the WASHINGTON POST story did not augur well for the country. “No government will be proud to run a country with such a high maternal fatality rate and we are not proud of that and we don’t expect any Sierra Leonean to be proud of that .That explains why our government has started taking steps to remedy the problem we inherited from the previous government, ” he reiterated. “This is a national disaster and it is wrong to make politics out of it “, he strongly affirmed.
Mr. Stevens stated that many nurses in Connecticut had expressed the desire to go to Sierra Leone to perform voluntary service for many months, in response to President Koroma’s appeals when he visited the U.S. last month. The Ambassador repeated President’s call to doctors and nurses in the U.S. to go to Sierra Leone to help her solve her health care crisis.
Ambassador Stevens told COCORIOKO that he has already contacted 6 doctors, 4 in New York and 2 in California to convince them to go back to Sierra Leone and provide help. He said that he was also in touch with many nurses for the same purpose.
Mr. Stevens disclosed that he will talk to more doctors and nurses but he also emphasized the need for the appropriate structures to be put in place in Sierra Leone to facilitate retention of these medical personnel. He also wanted doctors and nurses in Sierra Leone to understand that the volunteers were not coming to take their jobs from them but to help to solve the country’s health delivery problems.
The Ambassador also enlightened COCORIOKO about PROJECT CURE, an organization that collects medical equipments and sends them to third world countries.
“They have contacted me already and we are working on plans to have medical equipments sent to Sierra Leone”, the Ambassador intimated.