Medical Assistance Sierra Leone was established in 2003 with the aim of supporting access to health care and urgent medical treatment for communities and individuals in Sierra Leone. The organisation became registered as a charity in 2004.
Sierra Leone is the poorest country in the world (UNDP 2004), with high infant mortality and globally the worst maternal mortality rates. The conflict, wide scale social disruption, population displacement, economic collapse, poverty and very poor living conditions along with limited access to quality health services are the major factors contributing to the current high mortality and morbidity. Ref: United Nations (2001): UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Sierra Leone 2002. Life expectancy is just 39 years for men and 42 years for women. Those with rare and complex conditions face little prospect of getting treatment.
Sierra Leone’s health infrastructure clearly requires support at all levels. However there are specific strategic areas where an input of resources can be expected to begin to save lives, improve health and well-being and better enable individuals to meet the vast development challenges facing their families and communities. With this in mind, MASL has identified three areas to focus its work on in the longterm:
1) Reducing maternal mortality. About 2% of women die in childbirth, largely due to lack of services to manage emergency obstetric care, harmful traditional practices, inadequately trained staff, a weak referral system and high hospital-patient costs. These problems are set within the social context of acute poverty and low knowledge levels.
2 ) Reducing child mortality. A study by the government and UNICEF revealed that 1 out of 4 children die before their fifth birthday. Children are dying from easily treatable illnesses like malaria, which accounts for up to 65% of such deaths, diarrohea, measles and complications associated with malnutrition. Low cost, well-targeted interventions can save lives.
3) Facilitating access to treatment for those with rare and specialist medical conditions, who face no prospect of getting treatment in Sierra Leone. Currently this includes support to spinal surgery patients, developing the first epilepsy service (diagnosis and treatment) in Sierra Leone with UK consultants and plastic surgery support to burns patients.
Without urgent support, Sierra Leone looks unlikely to meet the targets for the Millennium Development Goals, agreed at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000. The necessarily ambitious targets on child mortality and maternal health are looking increasingly less attainable as the global economic crisis takes hold and the population struggles to cope with rising prices for essential items such as food, fuel and medication.
MASL works with others to raise awareness of the key health and development issues facing communities in Sierra Leone – and to generate interest and support in meeting the health needs of the country. We have virtually no UK overheads and employ one Coordinator in Sierra Leone, Brima Kpakra, who liaises with and supports local partners and carries out a monitoring and evaluation function.