Sierra Leonean health professional Alhassan Kanu recently returned home after his studies in the United Kingdom, one of the increasing number of Sierra Leoneans ready and eager to take part in their native country’s developmental process.
I recently interviewed Alhassan about his experiences.
Gibril Koroma: Please introduce yourself.
Alhassan Kanu: My name is Alhassan Kanu and I hail from the North of the country in the Tonkolili district. I am a product of the Government Secondary School for Boys, Magburaka. I had my primary qualification as a Community Health Officer (CHO) from the then Paramedical School (Now Department of Community Health and Clinical Sciences-Njala University). After my graduation, I worked as a Peripheral Health Unit (PHU) worker in the Western Area and Masingbi Health Centre in the Tonkolili district.
In 2002, I studied for the Certificate and Diploma in Tropical Community Medicine and Health at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS) and upon my graduation, I was invited to work with the Tonkolili District Health Management Team where I served in the capacities of Disease Surveillance Officer and Onchocerciasis Control Focal Point.
In 2004, I proceeded to the United Kingdom as a self-sponsored student where I did a Masters in Public Health (MPH) and an MSc in International Public Health Nutrition from the universities of Staffordshire and Westminster respectively.
GK: You recently returned to Sierra Leone after studying in the United Kingdom and working for a UK Consultancy firm. Why did you take that decision?
AK: Taking the decision to come home was the easiest following a job offer by a UK consultancy firm (Options Consultancy Services UK Ltd). It has always been my dream for a return home to make a difference in people’s lives and especially the poor. Sierra Leone is suffering from a chronic brain drain and this has contributed to its slow progress. One doesn’t have to return home from the Diaspora for only political appointments. I came back to rejoin the MOHS as Regional Health Sector Support Specialist (RHSSS) for the Northern Province as an embedded member of staff providing technical assistance to the DFID sponsored RCH/ Free Health Care Initiative in the Northern Region.
My employer, Options Consultancy Services is contracted by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to manage a programme of technical assistance to the Ministry of Health & Sanitation (MOHS). The programme is aimed at supporting MOHS to improve the financing, management and delivery of sustainable and replicable pro-poor health services to ensure the achievement of the national Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) Strategic Plan within the context of the National Health Sector Strategic Plan.
GK: What do you do in your current job?
AK: As the RHSSS, I support the districts’ plans in the region to deliver a harmonised response to the delivery of health programmes and health services for the vulnerable groups of women and children.
Part of my role is also to enhance the acceleration of evidenced-based interventions geared towards achieving the overall goal of the RCH strategic plan to reduce the maternal, infants/under fives mortality rates.
An essential activity in my job is to carry out situational analyses in the respective districts in the region so as to able to identify and recommend short and long term strategies required to improve the utilisation and quality of basic services.
GK: Please give us a summary of the status or condition of health care facilities in the north of Sierra Leone as Regional Health Sector Support Specialist (North).
AK: The North, like any other region in the country is lacking qualified health staff for health care facilities. It is however worse in the North than any other region in the country. This is partly due to the lack of training institutions for health staff in the region. This problem will soon be resolved as such institutions are now operating in the region; training community health nurses, midwives and the like.
The health care facilities in Sierra Leone are chronically lacking the capacity to carry out quality services as a result of stock outs of essential drugs and supplies. The Free Health care initiative, which is a life-saving scheme for pregnant women and children is also pregnant with opportunities and among them include the upgrading of our PHUs and hospitals to carry out effective and quality services for the people of Sierra Leone.
GK: We know the health situation in the country is not very good, some would say disastrous. What should Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora and friends of Sierra Leone do to help?
AK: Key areas to assist in improving the health situation in Sierra Leone include:
Assist training institutions with relevant materials to enable them to produce competent staff for our health facilities
Provide funds for developing and/or building more facilities to cater for the under-served and impoverished communities
Assist in providing essential medical supplies and drugs for our facilities.
Provide ambulances to promote an efficient referral system between primary and secondary health care facilities
I thank you very much for this opportunity. My thanks also go to the Bombali brothers and sisters who recently provided an ambulance for the hospital. And to all other philanthropists and our partners who in their own little ways have been assisting the people of Sierra Leone.