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This blog is written by Nouria Brikci, Health and Policy Advisor
April 27, 2010, will be remembered as a special day in, and for, Sierra Leone.
Not only because April 27 is independence day, but also and most importantly because it is the day that going to the doctor becomes free for children under five, pregnant women and new
Sierra Leone is one of the worst countries in which to be born in terms of health indicators and, until now, everyone had to pay to seek medical help - from the very poor to the very rich. And of course, many could not afford to pay, particularly the poor, which represents the majority of the population.
Making healthcare free for these groups goes a long way in improving the chances of survival for children and their mothers and in meeting the relevant Millennium Development Goals.
What the government of Sierra Leone has done to ensure that this policy works is extraordinary. For the past six months, various ministries have tirelessly worked in collaboration with health and aid organisations (including Save the Children) on many areas.
They have planned for the right level of additional drugs to arrive in the country and be distributed and for staff to get an increase in salary to reflect the additional amount of work they will have to undertake.
Plans are also in place for additional funds to be available to support the change, for a monitoring and evaluation policy to follow-up on its successes and failures and a communications
strategy to make sure everyone understands the policy and claims their right to free health.
What we have seen in Sierra Leone has been a unique commitment to the health of children and their mums.
The UK government has done a lot to support this policy, providing funds to buy drugs, technical assistance to clean up the Ministry of Health payroll, putting together a health financing strategy, and generally collaborating with the Sierra Leone government.
I really hope that the UK government continues with and increases this support.
There are so many sceptics out there who believe making healthcare free at the point of use is not a good approach. No doubt Sierra Leone will be scrutinised and criticised at the first failing.
So now's the time when all the supporters, advocates, donors and civil society need to hold strong.
Well done Sierra Leone. It's a happy day.
Visit KrooBay, our online site highlighting life in a slum in Freetown, Sierra Leone