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While in Freetown I had a long conversation with an Expat that has been working in hospitals for several years. This blog post comes out of that conversation. I verified much of the information online.
Sierra Leone Facts – UNDP
Life Expectancy at birth 48
Adult Literacy 41%
Ranked 180 out of 187 countries in Human Development Index
Poverty Rate 75.5% (more than 60% of the population living on less than US$ 1.25 a day)
Per Capita income $685 USD per year
Founded as a place where freed slaves could settle back in Africa. Slaves came from the English speaking world including 1,200 freed slaves from Nova Scotia. By 1855 over 50,000 freed slaves had settled in Freetown.
From 1991 to 2002 a civil war was fought with particularly brutal acts of violence. The war is considered to have spilled over from Liberia. In Sierra Leone about 25% of soldiers were under 18. According to sources, “Child soldiers were deliberately overwhelmed with violence in order to completely desensitize them and make them mindless killing machines.” Many of these child soldiers fought while high on drugs. To give you an idea of how bad the war was, one assault on Freetown was called “Operation No Living Thing.”
My First Impression
Wealthier than Guinea and Guinea Bissau. The country has far more roads and even a duel lane highway. More products available for sale than either of the Guineas. The Freetown Peninsula is one of the few areas in Africa with coastal mountains. The beaches are stunning. It seems a lot of progress has been made in the last few years.
Only 10 percent of residents in Freetown have access to the electricity grid. Over 80 percent of business rely on their own diesel generators. A litre of fuel is approximately 2 USD. Fuel shortages are frequent. The expat I talked to claimed she had very little electricity where she was staying for a three month period as they were unable to buy fuel for the generator. The supermarkets I entered did not have freezers. No sense having freezers if your power is inconsistent. The hotel we stayed at relied on generators.
We witnessed a steady flow of water trucks picking up “potable” water from a clear but garbage packed stream coming down from a local mountain. Doubtlessly the trucks were bringing water for use by the wealthier in the city. Apparently 90 percent of the city is not connected to a sewage system. Water hookups probably aren’t all that high either. Cholera outbreaks are common.
Apparently once a month garbage is collected from the streets by the army. The garbage is dumped in landfills that are central and coastal. Much of what gets dumped ends up in the sea. According to one website “At the dumps, people set fire to the waste to make space for new garbage and separate metals from other materials. These fires release toxic chemical fumes and create a risk of fire outbreak. As a result of the fire, smog is often left in the air for days and unattended coals lead to regular instances of spontaneous combustion.”
A news report stated “On Thursday 23 August 2018, a man died while scavenging for metals below the bomeh (garbage dump) at Kissy Road. The heavy rains that morning triggered a “garbage-slide” and a section of the 25-meter wall of trash buried the man.” In addition local hospitals report a lot of health issues from those living in and around the dumps.
A lot of garbage is dumped in ditches and drainage as rain conveniently gets rid of the waste.
The expat I talked to claims a considerable number of nurses can not read or write. Not surprising considering the low pay and a literacy rate of 41%. Many nurses do not know basic medical care resulting in deaths from very basic problems ie babies overheat and die from being wrapped in blankets to keep them warm.
She also claims that many hospitals out of Freetown do not have any doctors on staff. A recent US study states there are only 1,000 doctors, nurses and midwives for a population of 8 million. This would mean an approximate shortage of 32,000 medical staff according to the site.
The expat also claimed that Freetown hospitals dump there waste in the ocean. We noticed a syringe and a medical sample bottle in the ocean at the far end of the Freetown Peninsula on what should have been some of the cleanest beaches. One tripadvisor review of a beautiful stretch of sand next to the luxury hotels in Freetown states, “Don’t bother. Beach is littered with syringes, hypodermic needles, and other medical waste. Locals say the central Connaught Hospital, which backs up on the water in another part of the city, has been dumping waste into the water for years. Tides and currents then carry the waste all around the Peninsula, as far as River Number Two.” We were 30 kilometres past River Number Two and we were seeing medical waste. Another website claims “The hospital dumps it’s garbage in the ocean. It is not uncommon to see syringes and sample containers floating around the beach. In fact the beautiful beaches and clear water of the Freetown peninsula has a horrendous amount of plastic bobbing up and down in the water.” Once again we saw a considerable amount of plastic while swimming in the wonderfully clear warm water of the peninsula.
It is a shame as the Freetown Peninsula has amazing tourism potential. The condition of the beach hotel we camped at was far worse than many of the abandoned buildings I saw even though it was thoroughly clean.
It is difficult to imagine or even believe that there are places like this on the planet. Problems like these are an issue in most of Western Africa. Amazingly the people themselves are the most warm and welcoming you will ever meet.
Some additional reading and photos.
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