By Amin Kef Sesay
In order to contribute to the socio –economic development of the country, Forty-seven nurses and midwives have returned home to Sierra Leone to take up jobs in hospitals and health centres across the country after successfully completing a two-year diploma in Ghana. The return of these upskilled medical staff will boost Sierra Leone’s efforts to recover from the devastating blow to its health service caused by the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic and by outbreaks of Lassa fever.
The 47 staff were awarded their diplomas on 18 December in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, by Ghana’s Nursing and Midwifery Council (N&MC) after four semesters of rigorous practical and theoretical work at the nursing and midwifery training colleges in Korle-Bu and Koforidua. The training was affiliated with the University of Cape Coast and sponsored by international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has worked in Sierra Leone since 1986.
MSF’s aim in sponsoring this training was “to enable Sierra Leone’s health service to withstand the devastating shock and utter destruction it suffered from major outbreaks of Lassa fever and Ebola,” says Bart Janssens, MSF Academy for health care director. “The training will ensure an increase in the patient-to-medic ratio and enhance timely, effective and quality health services in Sierra Leone,” he adds.
The nurses and midwives will work in various health facilities across Sierra Leone, including MSF’s Hangha hospital in Kenema district, which provides emergency healthcare for children under five.
In her three years as a state-enrolled community health nurse at Kenema government hospital, Janeba Jallow witnessed the impact on her community of a lack of access to quality healthcare. “I saw a child who was severely ill brought to a health facility, where I was working,” says Janeba. “The family was so poor they could not afford medication. I used the money I had saved to pay for her 10 days of admission costs and treatment.”
Janeba – who is now qualified as a licensed nurse following the two years of training in Ghana – worked as a community health nurse in Sierra Leone during the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak. The experience had a lasting effect on her.
“I was traumatised during my work as a student nurse in 2014,” says Janeba. “I saw my fellow colleagues – nurses and lab technicians – die from the disease. I am still traumatised and I get very emotional when I remember. I was pregnant with my son and I was very scared. If medics cannot have the expertise and tools to prevent the spread of diseases and to diagnose and treat our patients, that by itself is an injustice.”
The two-year training programme for health staff serves as a pilot to develop the tools and expertise needed to meet training needs in Sierra Leone and in other countries worldwide.
“Developing global human resources for health should remain a priority for MSF and partners against the backdrop of re-emerging diseases and new strains with resistance to conventional treatment,” says Samuel Theodore, MSF’s head of mission in Sierra Leone. “Viruses and germs are no longer contained within countries and states and guaranteeing a qualified workforce which is accessible and available is a fundamental human right.”
The year 2020 has been designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the year of nurse and midwife.
“Speaking on behalf of my fellow medics – the nurses and midwives – and given that 2020 is the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, I can say that we feel better equipped, whatever emergency might come,” says Jallow.
MSF has worked in Sierra Leone since 1986. In 1995, MSF sent teams to provide assistance to displaced Sierra Leoneans during and immediately after the decade-long civil war. MSF also launched a large-scale response during the Ebola outbreak of 2014-16. MSF currently works in three districts – Kenema, Tonkolili and Bombali – providing medical care and supporting initiatives to strengthen the country’s health system.