By Elkass I.L. Sannoh
Zimbabwean born United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) representative, Mrs. Ratidzai Ndolvu, was on Friday, July 20 crowed as Paramount Chief at a colourful ceremony at the Miatta Conference Centre in Freetown.
Welcoming the gathering, the Chairman of the ceremony who is the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Mr. Stephen Gaojia, maintained that he was happy for the large turnout of women at the programme, especially the Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA) in taking the lead in community advocacy for safe birth and general well being of women.
He disclosed that he was also happy to note that the self-esteem and capacity of the TBAs have been enhanced through the community wellness advocacy programme, which he observed will enhance the collaborative efforts in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
Speaking at the ceremony organized by the Community Wellness Advocates for Gender Equality and Maternal Health (CAGS), the Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Hon. Tamba Bobor Sawyer, said he was honoured to represent his boss, Hon. Haja Zainab Hawa Bangura.
He explained that since the end of the country’s decade civil war, the government of Sierra Leone has pursued a decentralization policy, a development strategy that seeks to devolve greater authority and responsibility for good governance and service delivery to the Local Councils.
He observed that development should become community oriented rather than being a function of nearness to the capital city or to the executive arm of government.
Hon. Sawyer explained that the National Health Sector Strategic Plan (NHSSP 2010-2015) was developed to strengthen the six pillars of the health system, targeting the improvement of infant and maternal health, reducing the burden of communicable and non communicable diseases and ensuring universal coverage on the overall quality of health care services in the nation.
He further stressed that the community advocacy groups have been directly engaged in community outreach activities, raising awareness on related issues, referrals, reporting and monitoring of gender based violence (GBV) related cases.
Acknowledging the position as “Ya Alimamy for Wellbody,” the UNFPA Country Representative in Sierra Leone, Mrs. Ratidzai Ndolvu, said she was elated for being given such an elevated position of recognition of her office’s achievements to help ameliorate the health issues in the country.
She revealed that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, especially the District Health Monitoring Teams with support from UNFPA have made a major breakthrough in transforming Traditional Birth Attendants, the majority of whom double as ‘Soweis’ to become powerful and effective community wellness advocates.
Mrs. Ndolvu congratulated all the community advocates for the great work that they have been doing in their various communities.
“I wish to take note of the unprecedented commitment and dedication that you have shown for the health and welfare of the communities since the inception of this programme and I would like to urge you to continue to serve your communities by fighting gender based violence and promoting sexual and reproductive health,“ Mrs. Ndolvu said.
She said they are committed to continue supporting women’s empowerment so as to elevate the status of women in the country.
Launching the Community Wellness Advocacy Programme, the wife of the Hon. Vice President, Mrs. Kadia Sam Sumana, noted that the programme was timely to present day Sierra Leone because, according to her, the country is still grappling with maternal mortality, gender based violence, HIV/AIDS prevention and control.
She opined that the importance of the community network on the lives of the women and children in particular cannot be over-emphasized as it has led to the increase in institutional delivery and corresponding decrease in maternal deaths in most communities.
She re-echoed that the launching of the group will mark a milestone in the campaign against infant and maternal mortality, teenage pregnancy, early marriage and other related problems in the country.