Rights Group Campaigns to End Sierra Leone ‘Emergency’

Amnesty International has kicked off a campaign to raise awareness around Sierra Leone’s appalling level of maternal mortality, in a bid to pressure authorities to do more to guarantee both women and children’s rights.

One in eight women faces death during pregnancy and childbirth in Sierra Leone, one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality. A vast majority of those deaths are from preventable conditions, AI charged in a recent report (.pdf), “Out of Reach: The Cost of Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone.”

Poverty, ignorance, institutionalized discrimination, tradition and distance combine to prevent many women from ever reaching professional medical services. Women who do reach health facilities are unlikely to get the necessary care. Demands for prepayment for services, unavailability of trained personnel and/or lack of water, electricity or proper medical supplies may delay lifesaving efforts.

Less than half of births in Sierra Leone are assisted by a skilled attendant, and only one in five deliveries takes place in a health facility.

“These grim statistics reveal that maternal deaths are a human rights emergency in Sierra Leone. Women and girls are dying in the thousands because they are routinely denied their right to life and health, in spite of promises from the government to provide free healthcare to all pregnant women,” AI Director General Irene Khan said upon release of the report.

In August 2009 the minister of health announced plans to provide free care to pregnant women and children, but mismanagement and corruption have already threatened to derail nascent plans.

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