Photo: UK aid and UNFPA support the construction and rehabilitation of eight health care facilities in Sierra Leone in July 2017. UNFPA Sierra Leone representative is in the centre. Credit: UNF PA Sierra Leone. - Photo: 2017

UN Responding to the Humanitarian Crisis in Sierra Leone

Interview with Dr. Kim Eva Dickson, Representative of the UNFPA Sierra Leone

NEW YORK | FREETOWN (IDN) – UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is paying specific attention to the needs of women and girls affected by the floods and mudslides in the country’s capital city Freetown that killed over 495 people on August 14, 2017. Joan Erakit, UN correspondent of IDN, flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate (INPS) Group, spoke with Dr. Kim Eva Dickson, Representative of the UNFPA Sierra Leone. Following is the full text of the interview.

Question: How does the situation look like in Freetown?

Kim Eva Dickson (KED): A total of 495 corpses have been buried of which 168 were females, 170 males and 157 children (as of August 23). Reports from various sources indicate that hundreds are still missing. The Office of National Security lists 5905 individuals (1247 households) in five communities as being directly affected by the flood and landslide. The most vulnerable areas are in Regent and Kamayama, which were directly affected by the landslide, other areas were mainly affected by flooding.

Efforts are underway to find more appropriate temporary housing for those affected, while the government is looking at the construction of low-cost houses for the affected people and permanent housing solutions in the long term.

Overall the most urgent lifesaving needs are progressively being covered, in particular those related to essential household items, health and food aid. Water, sanitation and hygiene actions are in place to prevent the contamination of water sources, and the prevention of cholera and other diarrheal diseases. UNFPA is paying specific attention to the needs of women and girls. Pregnant women in the temporary shelters have been thoroughly assessed and provided with antenatal care, and social workers are being oriented to prevent gender-based violence.

Q: In a recent press release, UNFPA Sierra Leone noted the dignity kits being distributed to women and girls of reproductive age; do you feel that you’ve managed to supply as many kits as needed and, have you witnessed a growing need to further support women and girls in the area affected by the mudslide?

KED: UNFPA is working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and local partners to provide essential reproductive health and maternal care and supplies to respond to the needs of pregnant and lactating women in flood affected areas.

So far, UNFPA has distributed 671 dignity kits (300 in Kamayama, 171 in Juba and 200 in Kaningo) to women and girls. The kits contain hygiene and sanitary items, as well as other items explicitly tailored towards the local needs of women and girls of reproductive age in particular communities. We are in active coordination with key stakeholders to supply additional dignity kits based on a needs-led approach, and are planning to distribute more dignity kits at the time of the food distribution undertaken by the World Food Programme (WFP).

UNFPA conducted a rapid assessment of 10 health facilities in the flood affected areas to assess the reproductive (including family planning), maternal and adolescent health service provision and supplies. UNFPA also supported the Directorate of Drugs and Supplies, to access the gaps in health commodities supply chain management, and consolidate the inventory status of reproductive (including family planning) and maternal health medical equipment, supplies, and commodities.

So far, UNFPA has managed to distribute obstetric, neonatal care and medical equipment and supplies to Regent Community Health Centre; a facility that serves the community at the epicenter of the disaster.

Q: What has been your relationship with the local government and how are you working together to ensure support, recovery and restoration for the countless victims after the mudslide?

KED: Government and development partners are working very well together. UNFPA is working with other UN agencies and development partners to support the response. Overall coordination is provided by the Office of National Security and this is progressively being strengthened. Recovery phase plans are being put together after the initial rapid response to the crisis situation.

Q: During these last few days, what have you seen as the challenges that both UNFPA Sierra Leone and the government, face in addressing the aftermath? I know that gender-based violence and the protection of children will be key as many are displaced from their homes, but are there other things that concern you?

KED: Preventing and responding to gender based violence is a challenge in any humanitarian situation. Women and girls face heightened vulnerabilities in terms of emergency and it is important that we work to minimize the risk of gender based violence. Temporary shelters can expose displaced persons to the risk of abuse due to various factors, including close living quarters, the breakdown of family structures, and other protective mechanisms. Many gender-based violence survivors often have to pay for their own health care and some face financial difficulties when pursuing legal cases due to the high costs involved.

UNFPA is working with the Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Children’s Affairs to provide an orientation training and equip the Social Workers stationed at the sites in all the affected communities. In addition, we are working with the Sierra Leone Police to strengthen the Family Support Units to prevent and respond to the needs of survivors

UNFPA believes that it is essential that health services are made accessible to affected people, especially women and adolescents throughout the crisis. UNFPA conducted a rapid assessment of 10 facilities serving the affected populations. The assessment revealed that many of the assessed facilities did not have the appropriate method mix of contraceptives (condoms, emergency contraceptives, injectables and contraceptive pills), even those facilities which stocked contraceptives, had an inadequate supply to serve the affected population. We are working with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to ensure that the facilities are adequately stocked.

With UNFPA support 44 pregnant women of which, 22 were adolescent girls were assessed. Routine antenatal care, including a full antenatal screening and an ultrasound scan at a Planned Parenthood Association of Sierra Leone (PPASL) clinic, was provided to all of the women. They will now be followed up at government clinics in their communities where they are entitled to free government healthcare. Additionally, UNFPA will provide mother-baby packs which contain essential start up items for the baby’s care.

Q: The Spokesperson for the Secretary General recently shared that the World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with the government of Sierra Leone to address any health issues — mainly the spread of Cholera – that sometimes arises during situations like this. Can you comment on that?

KED: The risk of cholera is definitely a concern in this crisis. WHO and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, have put systems in place to prevent cholera and to rapidly manage any cases that may emerge. UNFPA is supporting the community sensitization efforts to raise awareness of good hygiene practices to prevent outbreaks.

Q: With regards to your mandate in Sierra Leone, what are you priorities now and have they shifted after the mudslide?

KED: UNFPA’s mandate is to ‘deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled’. Serra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality and teenage pregnancy rates in the world and therefore our mandate is very relevant, even in this current crisis situation. UNFPA and development partners support the Government of Sierra Leone in ensuring access to, and utilization of sexual reproductive health services, including skilled birth attendance, emergency obstetric care, family planning services and adolescent sexual reproductive health services.

We remain focused on our mandate and since the recent floods and landslide, we are ensuring affected communities have access to essential health services. We have worked to supply Dignity Kits to women and girls, identify pregnant women and ensuring they receive the required maternal health care, family planning and other reproductive health services. In temporary sites, and in clinics in the affected communities, we are making sure services are available to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

Q: Do you have a sense of what people are feeling in Freetown today, days after the mudslide?

KED: This is a humanitarian crisis and we are delivering a joint UN humanitarian response. We are now in the recovery stage and are focusing on ensuring people have their basic needs met, such as access to safe water and sanitation, shelter, and that psycho-social support is provided to those who are traumatized. In times of crisis, many people are unable to access health services, we are working to ensure that health systems are strengthened.

UNFPA is focused on making sure the humanitarian response does not neglect the special needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls, and that maternal healthcare is not overlooked. The cause of the mudslide is not our focus. [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 August 2017]

Photo: UK aid and UNFPA support the construction and rehabilitation of eight health care facilities in Sierra Leone in July 2017. UNFPA Sierra Leone representative is in the centre. Credit: UNF PA Sierra Leone. /images/President_turning_the_sod.JPG

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate

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