The context in which this strike took place is worth considering. Taking note of the severe weaknesses of his country’s health infrastructure, on the eve of celebrating Sierra Leone’s 49th independence anniversary last year, President Koroma promised the introduction of free medical healthcare for pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers, as well as children under five years. This new system is supposed to take effect in April 2010, and doctors and nurses argued that due to the inevitable, significant increase in their workload, their compensation should be adjusted accordingly.
According to recent UNICEF statistics, Sierra Leone has been spending about 10% of its GDP on health – the same percentage as for defense spending. Salary adjustments represent one small – but encouraging – step towards improving the country’s health infrastructure. While the move to increase health care professionals’ pay was viewed by some as an invitation for other civil servants to go on strike and make their own demands, I see this as a sign of good leadership and crisis management skills from President Koroma and his government. This year, DFID, the British government aid agency – in a move which suggests trust in Sierra Leone’s leadership on health matters – will be providing £10 million (15 million USD) to support better health care delivery in Sierra Leone.
Image: (Flickr, UN Photo) Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, addresses the general debate of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly.