By Amin Kef
For far too long Sierra Leone’s health sector has been in an underdeveloped state as in the past serious efforts were not made by successive Governments to beef it up. Some improvement was made during the tenure of the erstwhile Government headed by former President Ernest Bai Koroma when the Free Health Care Initiative was introduced for Under-Five Children, Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers.
However, the country’s health sector remained largely under resourced and plagued by serious institutional corruption by officials who were expected to enhance its vibrant functionality.
The statistics of Sierra Leoneans dying from preventable diseases and the high infant as well as maternal mortality rates were very grim.
Simply because the country’s health sector was not standardized, Sierra Leoneans who were inflicted by certain diseases have the only option to be flown out to Ghana and India for specialized medical treatments. Those who could afford the high expenses to be flown out were and are still in the minority whereas the majority either died untimely or survived by the grace of God.
One identifiable factor that could have been responsible for the unfortunate situation was that it was strongly believed that it is only Government that should provide the resources to beef up the sector. Considering the numerous tasks that Government has in hand in terms of fulfilling its manifesto promises has indeed made it difficult for much needed resources to be injected into the health sector.
To overcome this perennial problem the solution only lies in the formation of a public-private venture to invest in the health sector.
It is against this backdrop that it was welcome news that the EASI Trading Company came on board to partner with the current Government headed by President Julius Maada Bio to construct a 150-bed ultra-modern teaching hospital at Kerry Town in the Western Area Rural District.
Through the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Government of Sierra Leone on Friday, 12th June 2020 signed an agreement with EASI Construction and Trading Limited for the construction of a 150-bed ultra-modern teaching hospital at Kerry Town in the Western Area Rural District.
The agreement was signed by the result oriented Mr Hashim Hashim, a representative of EASI Construction and Trading Limited and Dr Alpha T. Wurie, Minister of Health and Sanitation.
Very instrumental in the actualization of the agreement was Mr Hashim Hashim, who is fondly called Pa Hashim, the first Sierra Leonean to be appointed as Sierra Leone’s Consul in Lebanon and described as the most suited person to handle such a high profile diplomatic position based on his experience, credibility and personality.
Indisputably, Pa Hashim played a key role recently in returning stranded Sierra Leoneans from Lebanon.
He also played a significant role in facilitating the arrival of a Lebanese medical team to work alongside Sierra Leonean doctors to fight the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
Commendably, through the efforts and effective lobbying of Pa Hashim, the EASI Construction and Trading Limited yielded to the clarion call of President Bio to expand health facilities and increase the country’s health infrastructure.
During a brief interview with Pa Hashim, he intimated that the Lebanese firm, EASI, is leading the construction work of what will be the largest modern hospital in Sierra Leone.
He furthered that President Bio laid the foundation stone for the hospital that is being built under the leadership of a Lebanese businessman, Elias Abu Shaheen through his contracting company.
“Abu Shaheen’s company is behind multiple major constructions in Lebanon, including the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium and the University of Balamand as well as others abroad, such as in Libya and Iraq,” he disclosed.
He stated that, when the 150 bedroom would have been completed and commissioned, the people of Sierra Leone will no longer need to go abroad for hospitalization. Rather, the people of neighbouring countries will be able to come to Sierra Leone.
The Sierra Leone Consul in Lebanon also informed The Calabash that the Abu Shaheen’s firm has signed another contract with the Sierra Leonean Government to build 6,000 modern housing units outside Freetown disclosing that the project will be launched soon.
With all these good efforts made by the President and Pa Hashim, it was indeed welcoming when on the 22nd January 2021, at Kerry Town, President Bio launched a Health Village and turned the sod for the construction of the 150 bed ultramodern hospital that would occupy a land space of 300 acres.
The 150 bed hospital, when completed, will house an outpatient department, private clinics, laboratories, teaching facility, maternity wards, paediatric wards, surgical wards and provide services for Endoscopy, Chemotherapy, Dialysis, IVF, etc.
Estimated to cost around $52.5 million USD the hospital will also create over 600 jobs in the health sector.
The hospital will also provide a comprehensive diagnostic, radiotherapy and cancer treatment center. 50 rooms will be constructed for nurses, 40 rooms for medical doctors and about 36 rooms for families who might want to stay in with their sick ones. A helipad landing will be part of the features at the hospital.
President Bio said: “it is hoped that this facility will offer improved quality of care and those services will be affordably priced”.
He also underscored that they were following through on the New Direction Manifesto promise and the Medium-Term National Development Plan to increase affordable access to quality healthcare service delivery.
He added that that goal also aligned with the Government’s human capital development priorities – access to quality healthcare, and the Sustainable Development Goal 3 on delivering good health and well-being to Sierra Leoneans.
The President furthered that his Government had been able to continue to deliver increased care for other diseases even through the COVID-19 pandemic because of their well-considered and scalable investments in the healthcare system over the last two years.
He recalled that for healthcare infrastructure, they had commissioned 380 beds in four new hospitals in Kailahun, Hangha, Rokupa, and at the King Harman Road, adding that they had also commenced the construction of 360 beds in 3 facilities in Jojoima in the Kailahun district, Lower Banta and Upper Banta Chiefdoms in Moyamba district, and 100 additional beds at the 34 Military Hospital in Freetown.
“We have recruited and trained nearly 6,000 additional healthcare workers, improved their conditions of service, and provided diagnostic laboratories in all district hospitals. The 2019 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) shows better health outcomes for Sierra Leoneans with a 39% reduction in maternal mortality and a 19% reduction in infant mortality. We may not be where we want to be, but we are determined to continue to give our best,” he assured.
Team Lead, Health and Education UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, Penny Walker-Robertson, commended the Government’s leadership for making this a priority.
“We believe we will see much more progress in the coming years. The opening of this health village is an opportunity to reflect some reforms and how this centre can contribute to the overall ambition for universal health coverage. We stand ready to partner with you,” she assured.
Minister of Health and Sanitation, Prof. Alpha Tejan Wurie, said what people saw with the health village was the tip of the iceberg within the health sector, adding that the President had gone to tell the people about the provision of tertiary service.
“You have been informed about the 150-bed hospital that will have 40 flats for doctors, 50 rooms for some of the nurses at work and will also have a hostel facility for those that accompany the sick.
“So, let us look at the services that we are going to get from this. Today, we send people out for paediatric service but more importantly for oncology service and also for cardiovascular service. We do hope that this facility will now have a reversal, in the sense that rather than Sierra Leoneans go out to access services, people will come into this country to access services,” he said.
From the foregoing, it is seen that through Public-Private Partnership certain national development aspirations could be achieved. The country needs the likes of Pa Hashim to back up the lobbying and luring of investors into the country in order to implement development projects as Government alone cannot do it all.