The 27th of April 2010 will be remembered as a special day in, and for, Sierra Leone.
Not only because the 27th of April is independence day, but because – and most importantly – it is the day that going to the doctor will become free for children under five and pregnant women, and new mothers.
Sierra Leone is one of the worst countries to be born in in terms of health indicators and, until now, everyone had to pay to seek medical help – from the very poor to the very rich.
Making healthcare free for these groups of people goes a long way in improving chances of survival of children and their mums – and in reaching the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5.
What the government of Sierra Leone has done to make sure this policy works is extraordinary. For the past six months, various ministries have tirelessly worked in collaboration with health organisations (including Save the Children) on many areas.
They have planned for the right level of additional drugs to arrive in the country and be distributed, and for staff to get an increase in salary to reflect the additional amount of work they will have to undertake.
Plans are also in place for additional funds to be available to support the change, for a monitoring and evaluation policy to follow-up on its successes and failures, and a communications strategy to make sure everyone understands the policy and claims their right to free health.
What we have seen in Sierra Leone has been a unique commitment to the health of children and their mums.
The UK government has done a lot to support this policy, providing funds to buy drugs, technical assistance to clean up the Ministry of Health payroll, to put together a health financing strategy, and generally collaborating with the Sierra Leone government.
And well done for that. I really hope that the UK government continues and increases this support, because now is when Sierra Leone is going to need it.
There are so many sceptics out there who believe making healthcare free at the point of use is not a good approach. No doubt Sierra Leone will be scrutinised and criticised at the first failing.
So now is when all the supporters, advocates, donors, civil scoiety, need to hold strong.
Well done Sierra Leone. It’s a happy day.
What difference will this make? Just watch this video
Video: In Sierra Leone’s Kroo Bay, Sunkari lost her baby Kadiatu. “She was sick with diarrhoea. The doctor told me to pay £15 but I only had £4. He wouldn’t look at my baby. He just got in his car and drove away. Why did my baby die? If I’d had £15 I could have bought medicine for my baby.”