SAN JACINTO, California — Sierra Leone is a country with a population of nearly eight million people. It is located in one of the most impoverished regions in the world, sub-Saharan Africa. A recent population boom has increased the need for support for the health and educational issues Sierra Leone faces. Women in Sierra Leone are exposed to a variety of health issues that are not attended to. For example, Sierra Leone accounts for some of the most severe HIV/AIDS infection and child pregnancy rates in the world. These rates have damaged women’s healthcare in Sierra Leone. As Sierra Leone continues to grow, many young women and children are suffering. However, experts believe the key to fixing this issue is amending the medical system and reinvesting into the educational system.
Women’s Health in Sierra Leone
Women’s health has long been an issue in Sierra Leone. While recovering from a recent civil war, Sierra Leone was left in an economically tough situation with the task of rebuilding the nation from the ground up. In this rebuilding process, a disproportionate amount of young women have been exposed to medical illnesses like HIV/AIDS within Sierra Leone. The lack of quality healthcare stems from a very high poverty range. A 2016 World Health Organization study found that more than 35,000 women older than 15 years old tested positive for HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone. Additionally, only 26% of the entire population received antiretroviral therapy.
Women experience alarming healthcare rates in Sierra Leone compared with other countries around the world. HIV/AIDS rates in the country may reach up to 2.7% of the adult population. The Borgen Project spoke with Sierra Leone’s representative from the humanitarian organization, CARE, who chose to stay anonymous. She stated, “The women we help here in Sierra Leone are misrepresented. With financial support, I believe the infection rates of women with HIV/AIDS would massively decrease.”
Women’s Education as a Preventative Measure
Women’s healthcare in Sierra Leone has been in constant need of financial aid and the integration of preventative programs. One of the most engaging preventive programs is the integration of education in Sierra Leone. Education and women’s health are related issues. A recent study from UNICEF found that women who finish a form of secondary education have a much lower risk of deadly or contagious diseases, like HIV/AIDS and malaria.
Women’s educational status correlates with their health. The CARE representative fully noted how vital education has become for young women who wish to transform the healthcare landscape. The representative stated, “Education is a pillar in changing the lives and health of these women. There is a 60% better chance of not being diagnosed with deadly diseases that involve a woman’s anatomy when they finish at least the first phase of their schooling.”
This statement is further supported by Brookings, which reported the investment of women’s education and the abolishment of child marriage will result in an increase of hundreds of millions of dollars. According to Brookings, if women were not forced into marriages as children, they could have earned more than $71 billion today. Therefore, eliminating barriers to higher education, such as child marriage, will improve women’s health in Sierra Leone.
The CARE Organization
As populations increase in sub-Saharan countries, global organizations emphasize how vital it is to help the most impoverished communities. One of these organizations is CARE. CARE is directly involved with the hardest-hit communities in Sierra Leone and works to improve healthcare and fight sexual violence. The nonprofit combats high HIV/AIDS rates and increased teenage pregnancy rates in more than 30% of the country’s communities.
In 1961, CARE began its work in Sierra Leone with a nutrition program for the children. Today, CARE’s aid has grown into an anti-poverty program tasked with dealing with the hardest issues in modern-day Sierra Leone. Current campaigns from CARE focus on women’s health and educational development in countries around the world. Throughout Africa, there has been a strong emphasis on improving HIV/AIDS education rates.
The representative from Sierra Leone reiterated, “Policies in Sierra Leone are slowed down through the federal government, but I have seen a sharp rise in help when other nonprofit organizations do their best to ensure funding and resources available for the young women we serve.”
CARE also emphasizes the importance of childbirth, during which women face unfavorable rates of mortality. A 2020 scholarly journal from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that Sierra Leone has the world’s highest estimated maternal mortality. More than 90% of pregnant women experienced delayed or prevented healthcare due to high costs or inaccessibility.
Despite the trials and tribulations that women in Sierra Leone have faced, the CARE representative had a positive outlook on the future of women in Sierra Leone. She stated, “I can see Sierra Leone being a much healthier nation in the future, but only through continuous support from programs around the world.”
Sub-Saharan countries like Sierra Leone continue to face poverty and diseases that affect women at an increased rate than men. Due to a lack of power, healthcare policy and government funds, young women suffer from inaccessibility to doctors and sex education. The reality of many women not surviving or being forced into marriages at young ages creates an entire community of young women who lack basic human rights. Educational opportunities showcase improved rates of surviving and attaining a healthier socio-economic foundation for the future. There are brighter days ahead for women’s healthcare in Sierra Leone. Nonprofit groups, such as CARE, are increasing resources for women to provide the care women need and deserve.
– Mario Perales