UN Women partners with the Office of the First Lady to respond to EVD

first ladyThe First Lady of Sierra Leone, H.E. Sia Nyama Koroma has underscored UN Women’s concern that the gains made for Sierra Leonean women and girls over the years are at stake due to the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), which has killed more women than men. “Today our Free Health Care system for pregnant women and lactating mothers and its complementary projects on reproductive and child health issues are under threat,”  said the First Lady while addressing some 200 opinion leaders at the Bank Complex in Freetown. Madam Koroma launched the Reproductive Health and Gender Sensitive Approaches to the Ebola emergency response for Sierra Leone on Friday 22 August 2014.
Justifying her deliberate response and strategic partnership in addressing the gender dimensions of the Ebola spread in the country, Madam Koroma pointed out that religious and traditional leaders in Sierra Leone are key actors to the fight against Ebola as citizens from all walks of life look up to them for guidance in times of anguish. She encouraged all development partners to apply gender responsive methodologies in all essential services within the Sierra Leone National Emergency Ebola Response Plan, stressing that the gains Sierra Leone was making in education, agriculture and free health care for maternal and child health have been eroded by the outbreak. She noted that girls who had unfortunately dropped out of school due to teenage pregnancy and who were re-enrolled will miss out their education as schools remain indefinitely closed. She encouraged the national security apparatus to remain alert as the non-reopening of schools may provoke unsettled youths into restless behaviours.
Alhaji Moijue Kaikai, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs expressed gratitude to partners for the swift manner in which funds have been diverted to address the ongoing EVD menace. The Minister of Health and Sanitation, Miatta Kargbo warned the religious and traditional leaders not to attempt to cure Ebola, saying “this is out of your realm”. She revealed how widespread cultural practises have cost the lives of citizens in the Kailahun and Kenema districts. The event saw a practical demonstration by Madam Koroma on proper hand washing skills followed by testimonies from Ebola survivors and a documentary on EVD. Given that the youngest survivor of Ebola in Sierra Leone is a 21 month old orphaned baby girl, the First Lady launched an Education Trust Fund to ensure that the child will be educated.
“We need to draw on the strength of women and men and specific roles to fight Ebola,” said UN Women Representative, Dr Mary Okumu, pointing out the need to pay specific attention to the plight of women not only as victims of Ebola but also as important stakeholders with specific roles in contributing to the fight against the disease. She appealed to the traditional and religious leaders and all frontline actors to help the Government of Sierra Leone fight the disease by speaking the same message based on the prescribed cautionary measures shared by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. She requested communities to accept their female health workers as well as all the survivors of the disease who hold the key for prevention. She also urged the leaders to appeal to their constituencies not to hide sick persons in their homes but to speedily refer them for care and management in the government health facilities and reinforced the importance of engaging the female traditional leaders, and the institutions they represent, in taking the lead to curb the spread of the virus, especially to counter the many unhelpful rumours and conflicting messages on Ebola in their communities.
The UNFPA Country Representative, Dr Bannet Ndyanabangi emphasized the critical need for the targeted traditional leaders to urge expectant mothers to go to their normal antenatal care clinics and seek medical care. Recognizing the shortfall of supplies for reproductive and maternal health in light of the Ebola outbreak, Dr Ndyanabangi donated medical supplies to the Office of the First Lady and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. The Managing Director of Airtel, Sudipto Chowdhury, assured the forum of Airtel’s continued support through the provision of airtime for UNFPA’s contact tracing activities. The event, which was organized by the Office of the First Lady and sponsored by UN Women, UNFPA and Airtel, was graced by the presence of the Minister of Defence, Inspector General of Police and other dignitaries. The fear of EVD has seen a total absence of women and girls from health facilities, which currently are totally non-functional, across the country. Among the many setbacks are women being afraid to go for antenatal care and now have to rely on home remedies or Traditional Birth Attendants, a practice that had been almost successfully eradicated, new born babies are going without immunisation, and women having limited access to contraceptives. Moreover, women who make up the bulk of the informal sector and especially those in trade, agriculture and tourism sectors have seen their means of livelihoods completely collapsed.