Sept 6 (Reuters) - * Free health care programme not working - Amnesty
* Maternal death rate in Sierra Leone among world's highest
* Women say turned away from hospitals - report
By Rebekah Curtis
LONDON, Sept 6 (Reuters) - A year after Sierra Leone introduced free healthcare for pregnant and breastfeeding women, many still struggle to get medicine and are asked to pay for drugs they can't afford, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
Health care in the poverty-stricken West African nation is inadequate and difficult to access in rural areas, and clinics suffer routine drugs shortages, the human rights group said in a report.
"They say free care, but there's none here," the report quoted Hawa, a pregnant 28-year-old, as saying. "(The) nurses said you are wasting my time, and kicked me out. I had to beg. But no money, no medicine," she said.
Sierra Leone has among the world's highest maternal death rates with 970 deaths for every 100,000 live births, according to 2008 figures published by UNICEF. Amnesty said many of the women who die can not afford care.
Sierra Leone's government announced last year it would provide free healthcare to pregnant and breastfeeding women in an effort to cut the number of deaths.
the criticism of the programme could embarrass President Ernest Bai Koroma, expected to seek a second term in office in elections planned next year.
MONITORING AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Sierra Leone's government needs to do more to roll out its free healthcare system and give women a way to let authorities know when they are denied care, Amnesty said.
"My baby was crying a lot and had a fever," a 23-year old woman who had just given birth told Amnesty. "(The) hospital had no drugs for him. (I) need to pay money. They chased me away. I don't know how to complain."
The Sierra Leonean government has introduced some initiatives to improve health care, such as increasing health workers' pay and training, but much remains to be done, Amnesty said in the report.
(Editing by Katie Nguyen and Richard Valdmanis)