Little did I know that when I left Sierra Leone in November 2019 that I would not return for over 1 ½ years! I always enjoy my yearly visits. Catching up with friends and colleagues and just spending time in such a beautiful and welcoming country. So, once fully vaccinated and it was safe to travel, I set off.
The primary purpose of the trip was to visit the core facilities that we support with medicines, supplies, and equipment and assess if we are continuing to meet their needs. Four hospitals and ten clinics across the country was my goal.
I heard that what we were sending was highly valued. Sometimes it’s the things that you least expect that are really appreciated. For instance, portable commodes used in the delivery room and plastic bed coverings were very popular.
Partnerships provide positive results
With our medicine shipments we try to focus on the greatest need which is quality antibiotics. Through our partnership with MAP International and their Bringing Children Health we were able to provide a larger supply of amoxicillin syrup to children to treat pneumonia and other infections. This is critical to reduce the high under-5 mortality rate in Sierra Leone. Every facility pointed this out as a top item that helped them address health issues among children.
Our facilities also tell us that the Prenatal Vitamins, Vitamin A and Albendazole we provide them from Vitamin Angels really help improve the health of pregnant women and under-5 children. Zana, who I met at Monsignor Daniel Sullivan Clinic, was a few months away from having her first baby. She told me the prenatal vitamins really help her feel better and stronger.
COVID cases have not been high in Sierra Leone. Health facilities, however, are very much aware that this could change at any minute. They are following all the proper protocols and let us know that additional masks and other personal protective equipment would be welcome in case they do experience a rise in cases. Especially with the rainy season started this is a great worry.
Storytelling and spelling bees…..
No trip to Sierra Leone would be complete without a stop at St. Mary’s Fatima ICC. Visiting the children is always fun and they always make you feel so welcomed. Between braiding my hair and playing with my camera the afternoon went by fast. I am always amazed at Sisters Agatha, Bernadette and Felicia and their calmness and patience in dealing with 23 active, inquisitive and at times rambunctious children. During the time when schools were shut down for coronavirus, they used all their skills to challenge the kids and keep them engaged. They held debates and spelling bees and implemented evening story time. At the end they said they grew stronger as a family and they appreciated their time together.
The timing of this trip allowed me to attend one of the quarterly epilepsy outreach visits that Loreto Health Services holds throughout the year. Held in Moyamba Town I talked with several beneficiaries that told us how this outreach had changed their lives. Our partnership with ROW Foundation provides the epilepsy drug Roweepra to support the work of Loreto Health Services.
Capacity training improving service delivery
I also received reports from facilities on the benefit of the capacity training we supported last year. At Stella Maris, Princess, told us of a recent delivery where she and her nursing team used what they had learned through their Emergency Obstetric Training and successfully conducted a breech delivery. She said prior to that she would not have attempted a delivery. But, the training gave her the knowledge and confidence to do so.
Time truly does fly, and it seemed as soon as I got there it was time to go. Zoom is not a replacement for in person contact and visits and it was good to get firsthand reports from our facilities and share laughs with old friends.