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Los Angeles Times Examines Health Care In Sierra Leone

The Los Angeles Times writes: “Sierra Leone is one of those nations where decades of foreign aid have failed to appreciably lift the fortunes of the people. The country is a charity case: 60% of its public spending comes from foreign governments and nonprofit organizations. Since 2002, it has received more than $1 billion in aid,” the newspaper writes. “Yet it has the second-highest rate of infant mortality in the world, behind Angola; even Afghanistan ranks lower. The United Nations says 1 in 8 women die giving birth in Sierra Leone; the rate in the United States is 1 in 4,800. Life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 41 years; in Bangladesh it’s 60.”

The article examines how a “decade-long civil war” and “widespread corruption” in Sierra Leone have contributed to a variety of problems there, “[t]he most immediate crisis … [being] healthcare.” According to the newspaper, there are two pediatricians and four obstetricians in the country.

“Government salaries for doctors range from $100 a month to $200 for specialists; experienced nurses earn $80” – salaries that are “among the lowest in the world.” According to the newspaper, “doctors in Ethiopia, Liberia and Nepal make more than four times as much.” To make up for their salaries, the newspaper reports that doctors will negotiate payments with their patients to be divvied up between the doctors and nurses, despite the country’s policy to offer free medical treatment.

The article includes information on how the first lady of Sierra Leone, Sia Koroma, a trained nurse, has worked “to draw attention to the public health crisis” since her husband took office in 2007. The story includes comments by Ibrahim Thorlie, the chief of medicine at Princess Christian Maternity Hospital in Sierra Leone, and other doctors working on the ground in the country.

“West Africa is of particular concern to world health officials. With shortages of medicine, trained doctors, reliable electricity, clean water and such basics as sterilized gloves, countries often lack the means to identify and deal with new disease threats,” the newspaper writes.

“As we turn over more and more rocks in more and more places, we find more passages for disease,” said Scott Dowell, director of global disease detection at CDC. “Most aren’t going to be the next HIV or SARS, but it’s pretty hard to tell which ones will and which ones won’t” (Kraft, 11/15).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.