President Ernest Bai Koroma in a no nonsense mood has issued a stern warning that any evidence of criminality found within the running and operations of the Free Health Care Project will be dealt with strongly according to law. The President issued this stern warning during a meeting centered on the Free Health Care country wide with major Stakeholders drawn from the diplomatic Corps, Donor Partners, Civil Society, Labour Congress, Officials of the Health Ministry, Anti Corruption Commission “ACC”, office of the National Security “ONS), the Police and other related Institutions today at State House. According to President Koroma he has strongly instructed the ACC, ONS and the Police to take all necessary measures and action against anybody or group of persons suspected of being involved in any contrary activities to undermine the smooth running of the Free Health Care Project. “I have appealed to every Sierra Leonean to help in monitoring this project. This Project must succeed in the country and no one or group of persons will frustrate or hinder the successes we had gained” He stressed.
The President referred to the meeting as an Open Health Dialogue, noting that the project is a welcome one that had seen reduction in the infant mortality rate and impacted on other related factors. He expressed concern for the challenges in both generic and special areas, noting that the issue of the drug supply chain and institutions charged with the delivering of the service had to be seriously looked into together with that of clearing the drugs from the Ports to the Medical Stores at New England. Health Minister Zainab Bangura, informed that she had been holding series of meetings with Stakeholders and visited hospitals throughout the country. She highlighted the issue of perfect record keeping and training of staff. “A Distribution and Management Plan has been presented by UNICEF and it is presently being studied and discussed with Partners and the Ministry. We are working as a group to ensure that before the 2011 drugs are rolled out positive arrangements have been put in place to ensure effective distribution and monitoring” Zainab Bangura intimated.
EF Boss Mahimbo Miloe informed about the lack of consumption data and poor record keeping, a certain amount of criminality and problems associated the clearing of drugs. “We had added staff to the Central Medical Stores to ensure effectiveness and I want to call for the introduction of an End Users Certificate. UNICEF believes the Free Health Care is a worthy venture and we will continue to work harder and support the government” He said. DFID Boss Dominic O’Neill said they have looked into the project carefully and concluded that it had made impact and touched on especially the lives of children. He commended the President’s swift action taken on number of issues and welcomed the probing of investigation into the Project by the ACC, noting that bad record keeping is unacceptable. He promised to work closely with other stake holders to ensure accountability.
Representing the Civil Society Charles Mambu said they have visited across the country and observed that some health staffs are yet to change their attitude, as they still demand for money within the Project and that the stores are not big enough and are without electricity and, A/C. He also mentioned the lack of transportation. Mr. Mambu however commended UNFPA for providing two trucks for the project and highlighted the difficulty faced in clearing drugs from the Ports and suggested that the procurement of drugs be removed from contractors to UNICEF. UNFPA Boss Ratidzai Ndhlovu highlighted the problem of clearing the drugs, dealing with NRA, Customs and Scanning of containers and lack of consumption data. She lamented that generators provided by UNFPA to all the districts have been used contrary to purpose. “However UNFPA will continue to support government” She assured. Sam Onwona the ADB Boss called for a complete duty free concession on Free Health Care drugs, whilst the World Bank Representative Vijay Pillai emphasized on the issue of a proper delivering system.
The Labour Congress called for the forming of a small Committee to look into the 25% drugs that is suspected not accounted for. Edmond Koroma pleaded with those bringing drugs into the country to ensure that their documents are forwarded to the Finance Ministry a week before arrival. According to the Mr. Kelfala Marah the Chief of Staff, he and the SPU at State House have put in place a – No Delay and Demurrage strategy – and stationed a team made up of staff from the ONS, SPU and Ports to ensure effective clearing and a twenty –four hour mobile hot line provided. ACC Commissioner Mr.Joseph.F. Kamara noted that record Management is their major challenge and this had lead to some ill motivated people exploiting the situation. He called for a full list of duty free waivers and informed that the Commission had taken up suspected issues of criminality within the Project and will prosecute them accordingly. Closing the meeting President Koroma thanked them for their contributions, noting that all what is now left is to map out the way forward. He advised that all statements claiming that “State House is interested” must first be cleared with him.
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