Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr Alpha Wurie, said the move is geared towards boosting the government’s ability to take charge of health funding, particularly its flagship partial Free Healthcare program which targets the most vulnerable segment of society.
Sierra Leone has some of the worst indicators in many international indices, especially in the area of health. It has, for instance, the highest rates of maternal mortality at 1, 165/100, 000, according to figures from its last Demographic and Health Survey in 2013.
The country is also among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest rates of infant mortality. According to the United Nations children’s agency, Unicef, out of every five children in Sierra Leone, one is likely to die before celebrating their fifth birthday.
It’s in response to these bleak figures that in 2010 the government introduced the Free Healthcare initiative which provides free services for three categories of people: pregnant women, children under-five years of age, and suckling mothers.
But the scheme has been tainted with problems, from drug shortage to reports of extortion. Patients constantly complain of healthcare providers demanding for illegal payments for services.
There have been calls for increase in funding to enhance the scheme. Dr Wurie, who took office in April, after the new government of President Julius Maada Bio was installed, said they have found that since the free healthcare scheme was introduce the government hasn’t investing anything into it.
“The government of Sierra Leone has not invested a cent in the free healthcare since it started in 2010. That must change,” Wurie was quoted on Tuesday telling a gathering of medical doctors in the
northern Makeni town over the week end.
“That’s why we have changed the amount of cash input to the sector from 10 percent to 15 percent of GDP,” he said. He said this will allow the MoHS to hire more healthcare workers and provide training for them.
The Minister added that the goal is to hit the Abuja declaration on health financing, which is an African Union initiative that requires African governments to allocate a minimum of 15 percent of their GDP to the health sector.
Within the last 10 years, Sierra Leone’s allocation to the sector has fluctuated between 9 percent and 11 percent, amidst inconsistently unreliable disbursements trends.
Mr Wurie was speaking at the Mid-Year Congress and Scientific conference of the Medical and Dental Health Council of Sierra Leone, which was held on the theme: ‘The role of insurance in improving healthcare in Sierra Leone.’
Lately the debate over the right way to attain universal health coverage has focused on health insurance. The government late last year commissioned a pilot project of the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) which seeks to provide affordable healthcare for citizens registered under and who will be required to make monthly contributions - Le15 (about US$2) a month. It covers about 35 diseases under the primary health care system.