In one of the largest low-income communities in Freetown, Sierra Leone – the Kroobay community – pregnant women and their families face multiple health care challenges, including limited access to skilled health providers, water and sanitation issues, poor nutrition, environmental threats such as garbage spillovers, and inadequate housing facilities.
Among the most pressing health challenges in Kroobay are inadequate services for pregnant women and the high rate of maternal mortality in the community.
“Health-seeking behavior is not the highest priority in Kroobay and the environmental conditions make the women and their families vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea, malaria, malnutrition, respiratory infections, and typhoid fever, which in turn contribute to maternal mortality,” said Mame Awa Toure, MD, ICAP’s country director in Sierra Leone.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, maternal mortality in Sierra Leone is among the highest in the world. A 2019 Sierra Leone Demographic Health Survey shows 717 deaths per 100,000 live births in Sierra Leone. The UNFPA estimates that approximately seven women die in every 1,000 live births during pregnancy, childbirth, or within two months after birth in Sierra Leone.
To combat the challenges of maternal mortality, ICAP, in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation, has partnered with the private sector through telecommunications company Orange Telecom to pilot a one-year maternal health project in Kroobay.
Launched in December of 2020, the “Safeguarding Maternal Health” project specifically focuses on promoting the health of pregnant women and their families in the Kroobay community by introducing maternal health services, community health education, early detection of pregnancy-related risk factors, and linkage to care. In addition, the project affords all people in the community access to routine screening services, including COVID-19 screening and referral of suspected cases, and weight management services for early disease detection.
The “Safeguarding Maternal Health” project fits with Sierra Leone’s priorities for improving outcomes for pregnant women and new mothers, as well as their newborn children. “The Ministry of Health has developed and finalized a five-year strategic plan for maternal, adolescent, newborn, and maternal health which outlines essential services for every pregnant woman. The Ministry is very excited about this collaboration with ICAP, which will help the Sierra Leone government implement health services that can ease the burden of the women of Kroobay and other areas,” said Toure.
In addition to providing quality health care in the Kroobay community, ICAP facilitated the training of 30 health care workers at the Kroobay Community Health Center. The training focused on enhancing health care worker capacity to provide better and quality services to community members. ICAP also improved the infection prevention and control (IPC) standards at the health center, making the facility safer for patients and health care workers. Additionally, the project was a gateway for ICAP to contribute to the COVID-19 response at the community level by conducting COVID-19 screening and setting up handwashing and sanitizing stations at the health facility.
So far, the project has linked 210 pregnant women to the Kroobay Community Care Center for antenatal services; and 39 of the 210 women linked to care have completed at least four antenatal care visits and delivered their babies at the health facilities. Fourteen women were also provided with baby care kits with essential supplies for the baby’s first 28 days of life.
Health care workers at the Kroobay Community Care Center have also provided weekly multi-disease screening such as malaria, HIV, blood pressure, blood sugar level, weight, and COVID 19 screening to 206 community members.
“This project has given ICAP and Orange Telecom insight into the vulnerabilities of women and children living in low-income communities,” said Toure. “There are issues of water supply affecting the Kroobay Community Health Center. The center is also in need of some renovations and repairs.”
With the vital support of Orange Telecom, ICAP will continue to work to address health challenges facing the people of Kroobay through a unique partnership that has great potential to forge a healthier future for women and children in Sierra Leone.