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September 7, 2016

Sierra Leone’s maternal and newborn mortality rates remain among the highest in the world. In May 2016, Project HOPE assembled a team of health professional volunteers who conducted a rapid assessment of maternal and newborn health care in several health facilities in Sierra Leone, while also providing training and clinical mentoring on newborn care. But the trip became much more than an assessment when HOPE’s expert volunteers, along with Program Coordinator Mariam Sow, intervened, working tirelessly to save lives.

Among the many deaths, there are also stories of hope. Here’s how HOPE health care workers saved one baby’s life despite the obstacles of dismally inadequate facilities, a lack of medicines, and a shortage of trained medical staff.

Sierra Leone baby saved by Project HOPE intervention

Baby Morie, a 5-month-old baby girl in the pediatric ward of the Bo District Hospital, had been crying nonstop for two days without any examinations or diagnosis. The only pediatric doctor was attending a workshop outside of Bo District. 

When Project HOPE’s Sierra Leone Program Coordinator Mariam Sow learned about the baby’s obvious and ongoing distress, she called Dr. Jacqueline Asibey, a Project HOPE volunteer. After an examination, Dr. Asibey diagnosed that Morie had intussusception, a medical condition in which a part of the intestine folds into another section of intestine requiring immediate surgery. 

Unfortunately, there was no pediatric surgeon at the hospital, so the volunteer health care workers had to come up with a creative but medically viable solution. Further inquiries with a community health officer yielded a plan to refer the baby to an emergency hospital managed by an Italian NGO in Freetown. Project HOPE arranged for baby Morie and her parents to be transported by ambulance. Upon arrival, Dr. Asibey’s preliminary diagnosis was confirmed and a visiting Italian surgeon performed surgery on Morie that night.

“The above scenario is not an isolated case,” says Sow. “Sadly, it is now the norm in Sierra Leone. At the time of our visit, the bed occupancy rate at the Bo District Hospital’s pediatric ward exceeded 100 percent. According to HOPE’s volunteers, each one of the babies which they observed was an emergency case and should have been in a pediatric ICU.”

Healthy baby in Sierra Leone after Project HOPE's medical intervention

Other babies were saved during this assessment as well, yet none of these had initially been classified by hospital staff as emergency cases. Upon arrival, each sick baby goes through a pre-triage evaluation. However, regardless of the seriousness of a baby’s condition, all were treated the same.

“The other babies that were saved by HOPE volunteers were identified by Dr. Asibey in the corridors of the hospital, after observing parents frantically asking for help for their almost dying babies,” says Sow. “Most of the drugs and material needed to save these babies were not available at the hospital dispensary; all items used to help those babies were purchased by us at drug stores in town.”

The medical officer for Bo District, Dr. Turay, acknowledges the lack of facilities, and emphasizes the importance of maternal health. “Kids who grow up without mothers become child soldiers,” says Turay. “We need to keep the moms healthy to build our community and our country.”

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