Sierra Leone Health Minister: Mercy Ships’ partnership ‘instrumental’

Dr Austin Demby, Minister of Health, Sierra Leone, sitting at a desk

Sierra Leone Health Minister: Mercy Ships’ partnership ‘instrumental’

Dr Austin Demby, Minister of Health, Sierra Leone.

As surgical and healthcare experts from around the world gather for the 64th Annual Conference and Scientific Meeting of the West African College of Surgeons in Sierra Leone, a profound dedication to advancing surgical knowledge and practice in the region is palpable.

At the forefront of discussions lies the conference’s pivotal theme: access to safe and affordable surgical and anaesthetic care in West Africa. The spectrum of surgical needs in Sierra Leone is broad, encompassing basic obstetric procedures, trauma surgeries, orthopaedic surgeries, and more. The demand for surgical services is high, and timely access to interventions is critical. Currently, our surgical capability is limited, with only 15 residents, six general surgeons, two orthopaedic surgeons, and two urology surgeons serving a population of eight million people.  

Access to safe surgical care is a fundamental necessity. We firmly believe that every individual has the inherent right to life. Life matters, and we are unwavering in our dedication to upholding that principle through the provision of quality surgical care.  

Dr Austin Demby’s Role 

As the Minister of Health for Sierra Leone, I am dedicated to realising the president’s vision of investing in people and development. I see my role as focusing on the health aspect as we build our nation, ensuring that our people are healthy and able to achieve their fullest potential as individuals, family members, community and district members, citizens, and contributors to the continent’s prosperity.  

Addressing the critical shortfall of surgeons in our own country is paramount, and our strategy involves tackling it from multiple angles. Our approach includes addressing the supply side by increasing the number of surgeons and subspecialties in surgery across the country. We also hope to dramatically increase the number of residents we currently have. Recently, we opened several new residency programs and established three new postgraduate schools.  

Additionally, we acknowledge that surgeons aren’t available in every village or community. Therefore, we are looking at ways to supplement the capabilities of community health officers and community offices by providing them with basic surgical training. This training enables them to perform minor surgeries even in remote parts of the country.  

In our ongoing efforts to navigate the intricate healthcare landscape of Sierra Leone, my focus has gravitated toward the paramount importance of safe surgery and the urgent need for comprehensive surgical education. I wake up every morning determined to change healthcare delivery in this country. I am pleased to be surrounded by people who share the same determination.  

Dr Austin Demby’s Anger 

I often tell others that I am angry at times. But I feel that anger can be a valuable indicator of what is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to have a preventable death rate in our country. It is unacceptable to have a HIV infections in this country.  It is unacceptable for somebody to die from AIDS when we have all the tools available to us.   

I think it’s important to feel anger towards these issues because it drives action. When you’re angry, you’re compelled to do something about it. It’s not just another baby who died; each one is an individual with the right to life.  

What we’re doing 

What we’re doing now is collaborating with our healthcare workforce throughout the country to instil this mindset that everybody’s life matters.  

Our country, like many others, grapples with a host of challenges, but our unwavering commitment lies in addressing these issues, particularly in the realms of education, health, and food security, serving as fundamental pillars driving national development forward. 

Sierra Leone’s journey towards a healthier and more prosperous future begins with education. Our healthcare priorities are investing in education and the development of individuals to their full potential. 

Coupled with education is the imperative for a healthy population. An educated, healthy populace is better equipped to contribute to national development, breaking the cycle of poverty and fostering a robust society.  

Food security is the third element of our triad, recognising that a well-nourished population is better positioned to thrive, both physically and mentally.  

Where Mercy Ships fits in 

Our collaboration with organisations like Mercy Ships is instrumental in delivering surgical services and investing in training local healthcare professionals. Their unwavering dedication to service, driven by the spirit of teamwork, care, and hope, is truly commendable. Their service delivery provides people with hope, tackling challenges that are difficult to comprehend.  

The investment in training counterparts from nurses and anaesthesiologists, to technicians and counsellors – to see how this is done with tender loving care for patients is incredible. Our residents are lining up to go and provide services and training on the hospital ships. Additionally, we are thrilled about the prospect of dental care training and the establishment of a dental school in our country. These initiatives signify a significant step towards building a self-sufficient healthcare system that can thrive long after Mercy Ships’ departure.  

Additionally, the current gathering of the West African College of Surgeons in Freetown is a huge milestone, providing an opportunity to showcase our progress and foster collaboration among West African nations. We’re expecting over 700 surgeons from across the continent and beyond. They are here to have very candid deliberations on the state of surgeries in Africa and what the future holds for the continent, and where we should be driving our focus.  

In moving forward, we are resolute in our commitment to addressing many of the challenges head-on, confident that through unity and resilience, we can surmount any obstacle. With a focus on essential needs and sustainable development, we are poised to create a better tomorrow for our nation.