This year the United Nations and Sierra Leone parliament have been making a major push to legalize abortion in Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone abortion bill blocked by President Ernest Bai Koroma again. World Hope International worked with The Wesleyan Church to lobby President Koroma to stop Parliament’s bill that would otherwise have made abortion legal in Sierra Leone. President Koroma is the son of a Wesleyan pastor and a member of The Wesleyan Church, and so far he has kept legalized abortion from becoming law there.

Regardless, illegal abortion is common in Sierra Leone, particularly in rural areas. Illegal abortion accounts for nine percent of maternal deaths each year in Sierra Leone. The country has the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. One out of 11 women die in child birth. If we can improve the odds of women surviving childbirth, that will encourage women to not seek out unsafe, illegal abortions. Women have had stark options when getting pregnant. World Hope is working to improve maternal and child mortality rates in Sierra Leone through a series of programs.

Maternal and Child Health: Sierra Leone is ranked among the worst countries in the world for under-five mortality. Each year, 16 percent of Sierra Leonean children die before their fifth birthday, compared to just 0.7 percent in the United States. Of those 9,430 annual deaths, 19 percent occur during the first day of life.

To address these dire circumstances, WHI, in partnership with The Children’s Prize, is implementing the Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) educational program in five districts in Sierra Leone. This program is expected to save 5,336 young lives in the country over the course of two years! Health program specialist, Carrie Jo Cain, is currently training the HBB curriculum to over 2,000 maternal child health aides and traditional birth attendants to properly provide neonatal care at health facilities as well as at home and in community settings.

Another effort to address the sky-high maternal death rate is ambulances. World Hope International is managing ambulance services in northern Sierra Leone to allow women to give birth in a hospital as opposed to giving birth in a village hut, thus improving their chance of survival. This basic service allowed over 2,000 women to give birth in a proper hospital setting this year alone as opposed to a more dangerous village home birth.

Hospital Support: Currently, WHI’s hospital improvement work is focused on bringing clean water to hospitals and clinics throughout Sierra Leone. In November, WHI drilled a well, installed an electric pump, and built a water tower for the Kailahun Government Hospital in the southeast of Sierra Leone. Additionally, WHI drilled a well, installed an electric pump, ran piping from the well to the hospital water tanks, and built a security fence at Lumley Government Hospital in Freetown. WHI also renovated a large water tower and installed an electric pump at Kissy Psychiatric Hospital in Freetown. WHI drilled a well, installed an electric pump, installed four water storage tanks and ran piping for the 34th Military Hospital in Freetown and will continue these efforts in 2017 and beyond. World Hope also supplied medicines to several hospitals throughout Sierra Leone this year, and provided new solar-powered clinics and ultrasound equipment for two hospitals in partnership with General Electric. (See photo.)

Enable the Children: Many children in Sierra Leone are born with or acquire mental or physical disabilities in their early years of life due to the scarcity and expense of child health services. Unfortunately, due to cultural beliefs and lack of education, many of these disabled children are rejected and abandoned by their communities. To help families learn to love and properly care for their disabled children, WHI’s Enable the Children (ETC) program provides much-needed therapy and support services to over 800 children living with disabilities in Freetown, Sierra Leone. ETC helps families provide at-home care to children and works to deliver specialized equipment, surgeries, training, and other health and caregiving services to help improve the lives of these children.

World Hope International stands against abortion not only in political action where possible, but also does the costly, but absolutely necessary work of addressing the health issues. Helping improve the chances of surviving childbirth and having a healthy baby gives women encouragement to choose life, rather than an illegal abortion.