By Amin Kef (Ranger)
The new Country Representative of the World Health Organization, (WHO), Dr. Innocent Nuwagira, was received by His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio at State House on the 6th April, 2023. He congratulated the Government on becoming the biggest success story in the maternal mortality ratio per 100,000 live births in Africa.
It must be noted that the integrated African Health Observatory report released in March 2023, revealed that “Sierra Leone was among the top three countries in the African Region with high maternal mortality rates in 2017 with 1,120 deaths per 100 000 live births. In 2020, the maternal mortality rate dropped by nearly 60% (443 deaths per 100 000 live births)”.
“Your Excellency, I am here to congratulate the country on the drastic reduction in maternal mortality that has occurred. We are proud of that achievement at WHO. Sierra Leone used to be one of the countries with the highest maternal mortality, which it has moved away from. In this year’s estimation that we have released recently, Sierra Leone was the number one country. You are at the top for reducing most deaths by 60 percent in the region. None was comparing to your country,” said the new WHO Rep.
Some have attributed that remarkable feat to an accomplishment of the 2018 New Direction Manifesto Commitment 11, which promised to improve health care under Cluster One of the Government’s Human Capital Development agenda in Sierra Leone’s Medium-Term National Development Plan 2019–2023 aiming at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3, which seeks to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
Dr Nuwagira, who took over from Dr Steven Velabo Shongwe, also told the President about the UN agency’s 75th anniversary this year, adding that while they were happy to announce that the celebration would last for the whole year, they also wanted to call on the President to be part of the story of their partnership and achievements.
“But also, I am here to thank you for the good job you are doing with WHO, especially for the recent event on accelerating momentum for immunization, which you have sponsored on the sideline event of the Africa Union.
“His Excellency, sharing the experience of Sierra Leone on how you have scaled down during the routine immunization and the HPV among young people is a leading example in the region. Many countries are asking how Sierra Leone was able, in a short time, to ensure the young girls are vaccinated as a result of your good leadership.
“As you might be aware, Sierra Leone has volunteered to pilot the Universal Health Preparedness Programme, which is expected in the first week of May with high-level representations from WHO. A team of high-level experts from other countries is coming to learn from what Sierra Leone has done in controlling the epidemic, especially when it was one of the very few countries in Africa to attain a 70 percent COVID-19 vaccination,” he confirmed.
Dr. Nuwagira said they were very happy that Sierra Leone had transitioned from COVID-19, adding that the Universal Health Preparedness Review would showcase the achievements of Sierra Leone as the second country in Africa and the only stable country in the region that many people would look forward to learning from its experience and the vision of its leadership.
In his response, President Julius Maada Bio welcomed the new WHO Country Representative, adding that the content of their statements at the meeting was refreshing and welcomed news.
“It is a reaffirmation of the work my Government has been doing to get to this point. We should not forget the fact that health is part of the human capital development initiative in my government. I have said that in order to develop the human capacity of our country, we need to focus on health, education, and food security. These are the three components of my government’s human capital development agenda,” he said.
He recalled that his Government’s interventions had been many, noting that they had tried a lot of options desperately in order to remove that stigma of being a country with the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the region. The President disclosed that a lot of efforts had gone into that drive, also because he ran an ambitious government.
“In exactly five years in governance, with what we have done in the education sector, this is welcome news. As a government, we will continue this partnership. We have always worked with the WHO and anything that needs to be done to improve the health of our people, as a government, we will always support and collaborate with you for a healthier world.
“Universal health coverage is an aspiration that is quite tough, but as a government, we are determined to have a healthy nation for a more productive future. We need to be part of the 21st century, from having an educated population to having a healthy and food-sufficient nation. We are open to sharing and opening our books to learn from others. Once again, you are welcome in Sierra Leone,” the President assured.