Working with Mothers to Boost Child Survival in Sierra Leone
During Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, the diamond-rich Kono District in the country's Eastern Province was ravaged by rebel factions who were drawn to the area's natural wealth. Though the rebels withdrew in 2002, Kono, like other districts in the region, continues its struggle to overcome the effects of many years of violence and destruction, in addition to the problems of disease and lack of access to health care and sanitation.
Mothers and children are particularly vulnerable. In Kono District, one of every three babies born will not live to see the age of five. As a country, Sierra Leone has the highest mortality rates in the world for young children and for women in childbirth.
In response, the IRC has established a child survival program in Kono District that focuses on child vaccination, disease control and prevention, and maternal and newborn care.
“Only one in four children in Kono is fully immunized,” said Amina Issa, the IRC's child survival program manager in Sierra Leone . Partnering with local health officials, IRC workers perform outreach to mothers and local communities to educate them about the value of vaccines.
Kono diamond mines provide fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes, and malaria is one of the leading causes of death for young children. Yet only one percent of children sleep under a mosquito net. The child survival program promotes the use of these nets to local communities, and makes inexpensive nets available for sale.
“We don't give them away,” explained Issa. “If people get something for free, you'll see it in shops the next day. But if you put value on something, then people will value it.”
Traditional birth attendants celebrating the completion of their training. (Photo: Emmanuel D’Harcourt/IRC)
Pneumonia is another common cause of death for children in Sierra Leone. The child survival program works to control the spread of pneumonia by training mothers to diagnose the disease early and then bring their children to local health centers for treatment. Diarrhea is a critical problem; the program educates mothers on the importance of clean water and hygienic practices.
Adequate health care for new mothers and infants is an important aspect of the child survival program. The IRC is working to upgrade the quality of local health care facilities, “which will also attract more women to come,” said Issa. The program also trains traditional birth attendants to refer complicated cases to these health care facilities.