Project

Sierra Leone: Where Corruption Kills

In Sierra Leone's Kono District, abysmal health indicators are just one unwanted legacy of its decade-long civil war. Another is endemic corruption.

Because government workers have long forced the poverty-stricken populace to pay bribes to receive medical care, it has been almost impossible for NGOs to build a viable service infrastructure.

In Kono, just miles from the country's diamond mines, one in five children and one in 23 pregnant women needlessly suffer and die for want of medical care.

In this project, Matt Hongoltz-Hetling and Michael Seamans look at the efforts of the Wellbody Alliance, a tiny NGO that may have found a solution to the seemingly intractable problem. Its unique model is funded with international aid and yet run by Sierra Leoneans, including a group of local medical care providers known for being "completely incorruptible."

The Ebola epidemic brought a new set of challenges for Wellbody, but it may have also created an opportunity.

For the first time, they are hiring traditional midwives to work alongside university-trained nurses and physicians in a newly constructed neonatal care clinic. It's a bold move because the midwives are steeped in a magic-based healing culture far different from that of modern medical workers.

If the health workers bridge the massive cultural gap, they will save the lives of thousands of babies every year, proving the value of a concept that could be replicated around the world. If they fail, it will be another devastating blow to a region beaten down by poverty, war and disease.

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