Breaking down barriers to maternal health care in Sierra Leone - 2010

As part of Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity campaign, the organization has been focussing on countries with poor maternal health care. One such country is Sierra Leone, where an early success for Amnesty International saw the lifting of health care fees for pregnant women in 2010.

In 2009, Sierra Leone had one of the worst maternal mortality ratios in the world. This was due to acombination of factors including lack of access to healthcare due to high cost and fear of having to pay fees, poorreferral networks, lack of trained medical staff and insufficient drugs and medical equipment. Othercauses include discrimination against women and social factors that undermined women’sright to health, and the lack of accountability at different levels of the health care system.

On 22 September 2009, Amnesty International launched a campaign to reduce maternal deaths in Sierra Leone and a report entitled Out of Reach: The Cost of Maternal Health in Sierra Leone. The following day, during the UN General Assembly, the President of Sierra Leone announced that health care for pregnant and lactating women and children under five would be free from 27 April 2010.

During September and October 2009, an Amnesty International ‘caravan’ travelled around Sierra Leone. The caravan included musicians and a theatre group who helped to spread Amnesty International’s messages about maternal health to around 20,000 people. Around 80,000 people in Sierra Leone and worldwide signed petitions and sent postcards encouraging the President of Sierra Leone to continue making maternal health care a priority.

After making the commitment to scrap health care fees for pregnant and lactating women and children under five, the government held an Investment and Donor Conference in London. One of the government’s aims for this conference was to raise the $20.1million per year needed to fulfil its pledge. Amnesty International used the conference to call on the international community to support Sierra Leone by making resources available.

The launch of the Free Care policy in April 2010 triggered a massive influx of women and children needing care. There were teething problems; however, Amnesty International’s Sierra Leone campaigner, Ayodele Ameen, noted: ‘Sierra Leone is one case where we have seen the impact of our campaign. Our call for removal of financial barriers was achieved on 27 April 2010 when the government launched the free health care policy. When we monitored the health facilities few days after the launch, we saw in Freetown how hundreds of rights holders are able to access these health facilities. We cannot envisage how many lives we have touched with our maternal mortality campaign in Sierra Leone’.

Related Audio-visual materials:

- LiveWire blog on Sierra Leone caravan in 2009:
- Report: Sierra Leone: Out of Reach: The cost of maternal health in Sierra Leone
- Playlist of Sierra Leone videos on Amnesty’s YouTube channel:

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