The Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL), in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has held an annual review meeting to review achievements, challenges and opportunities from the 2020 joint work plans implemented to support the survival, growth and development of children in the country.
The annual review meeting, which was attended by participants representing the Government of Sierra Leone and UNICEF, was also an opportunity for stakeholders to exchange ideas on how progress for children can be achieved beyond the accomplishments of 2020.
Minister of Economic Planning and Development, Dr. Francis Kai Kai, expressed Government’s appreciation for the continuing collaboration and partnership with UNICEF, which is aligned with achieving national, regional and global priorities, particularly towards attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“Government continues to relate with UNICEF as a valuable partner for delivery of basic services in the human capital development sectors, particularly in health and education, as well as water and sanitation,” said Hon. Dr. Francis Kai Kai, Minister of Planning and Economic Development.
“This annual review was an opportunity to take stock of the challenges of 2020, which was dominated by response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are determined to improve on service delivery this year through stronger coordination with implementing partners at the decentralised levels.
Despite the challenges and complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic, Government and UNICEF, working closely with Government various development partners, managed to deliver lifesaving assistance to the most vulnerable children and their families in the hardest to reach areas.
Among of the more pronounced results in the areas of health, water and sanitation, child protection and social services, include child health and nutrition– There were five additional Special Care Baby Units (SCBUs), which were established to provide care and support to babies who are born prematurely or those who are born with ailment.
There are now nine SCBUs across the country, which admitted 5,032 sick newborns, saving over 4,145 lives. Additionally, two refrigerated trucks were procured for vaccine distribution to all districts and eleven solar refrigerators were installed in two new districts.
Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) – Through the Community-Led Total Sanitation initiative, 34,512 people (16,911 males; 17,601 females including children) now live in 68 open defecation-free (ODF) communities across five districts.
Education – As part of the Government’s National Education Sector Plan (2018-2020) and COVID-19 Education Emergency Plan, a range of education stakeholders were engaged to ensure quality education for every child. The Government’s Free Quality School Education programme (FQSE) has resulted in significant increase of approximately 30 percent in enrolment across all levels, with a gross enrolment ratio of 19.3 per cent at pre-primary level.
Birth registration was successful for 103,313 newborns (52,272 females; 51,041 males) in the Peripheral Health Units by the National Civil Registration Unit. Throughout the year, social welfare and justice sector service providers ensured continuity of essential services, including Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS). More than 15,841 children and family members were provided with MHPSS; 587 children with case management and 18,229 children received legal assistance, education and representation.
Social protection – In 2020, the Government’s socio-economic response to COVID-19 provided 29,000 households with cash transfers to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on families and livelihoods. With the support of UNICEF and the World Bank, Government also instituted strong systems for managing cash transfers under the National Commission for Social Action with involvement from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for transparency and accountability.
Significantly, despite the air travel restrictions during most of 2020, much of the COVID-19 supplies, as well as non-COVID-19 health and nutrition supplies such as vaccines, nutrition therapeutic supplies and drugs for the country’s Free Health Care Initiative, were procured through UNICEF for Government.
While acknowledging the positive milestones taken in 2020, participants at the meeting agreed that more still needs to be done as far too many children still cannot access basic services and experience multiple deprivations daily. Chronic malnutrition among children under the age of five, violence against children, teenage pregnancies and child marriage remain high and are compounded by household poverty, persistent outbreaks and disparities in access to water and sanitation services between urban and rural populations.
In his remarks, Dr. Suleiman Braimoh, UNICEF Representative, called on Government to continue harnessing innovative and creative ways of closing the remaining gaps.
“COVID-19 has heightened the urgency for us to take stock of our individual and collective contribution to child rights in Sierra Leone and to reflect on how we can do things differently to address the unfinished business for children,” said Dr. Braimoh. “Together with our development partners, communities and the children themselves, we must strengthen the linkages between humanitarian and development programming to ensure an integrated approach to emergency preparedness, humanitarian action and longer-term resilience and system building across the country.”
The year 2020 marked the first year in the implementation of the new UNICEF-Government of Sierra Leone Country Programme Document (2020 – 2023), which provides a framework to extend services and policies for children in the areas of health, nutrition, WASH, education, child protection and social protection.