Transforming Sierra Leone’s Healthcare

By Dr. Austin Demby, Minister of Health and Sanitation for the Government of Sierra Leone

Dr. Austin Demby: transforming Sierra Leone’s Healthcare

Opinion editorial by Dr. Austin Demby. As experts from the surgical and healthcare world gather for the 64th Annual Conference and Scientific Meeting of the West African College of Surgeons in Sierra Leone this week, a profound dedication to advancing surgical knowledge and practice in the region is palpable.

The conference’s pivotal theme lies at the forefront of discussions: access to safe and affordable surgical and anesthetic care in West Africa. This theme highlights the pressing need to address disparities in healthcare capabilities and capacities across the region, especially the critical importance of equitable access to quality surgical interventions.

The spectrum of surgical needs in Sierra Leone is broad, encompassing basic obstetric procedures, trauma surgeries, orthopedic surgeries, and more. The demand for surgical services is high, and timely access to interventions is often critical. Currently, our surgical capability at the surgeon’s level is limited, with only 15 residents, six general surgeons, two orthopedic surgeons, and two urology surgeons serving a population of eight million people.

Access to safe surgical care is a fundamental necessity. We firmly believe that every individual has the inherent right to live. Life matters, and we are unwavering in our dedication to upholding that principle through the provision of quality surgical care.

My commitment to a fair healthcare system

As the Minister of Health for Sierra Leone, I, Dr. Austin Demby, am dedicated to realizing the President’s vision of investing in people and human capital development. I see my role as focusing on the health aspect as we build our nation, ensuring that our people are healthy and able to achieve their fullest potential as individuals, family members, community and district members, citizens, and contributors to the continent’s prosperity.

The multi-faceted journey to transform Sierra Leone’s healthcare demands collective effort, innovation, and unwavering determination. We are laying the groundwork for a comprehensive healthcare system that meets the diverse needs of our population. The challenges are significant, but with determination, collaboration, and a shared vision, we believe in the transformative power of healthcare to uplift our nation and its people.

Every morning I wake up determined to change healthcare delivery in this country. I am pleased to be surrounded by people who share the same determination.

I often tell others that I am angry at times. But I feel that anger can be a valuable indicator of what is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to have a preventable death in our country. I think it’s important to feel anger towards these issues because it drives action. When you’re angry, you’re compelled to do something about it. It’s not just another baby who died; each one is an individual with the right to live.

Safe Surgery and Surgical Education: The Cornerstones of Healthcare

Accelerating access to safe and affordable surgical and anesthesia care in West Africa is critical. The current landscape reveals a disparity in healthcare capabilities and capacities across the region.

By fostering collaboration and networking among countries, we can leverage collective strengths and resources to address these gaps more efficiently.

Addressing the critical shortfall of surgeons in our own country is paramount, and our strategy involves tackling it from multiple angles.

  • Our approach includes addressing the supply side by increasing the number of surgeons and subspecialties in surgery across the country. We also hope to dramatically increase the number of residents we currently have. Recently, we opened several new residency programs and established three new postgraduate schools.
  • Additionally, we acknowledge that every village or community doesn’t have top surgeons available. Therefore, we are looking at ways to supplement the capabilities of community health officers and community offices by providing them with basic surgical training. This training enables them to perform minor surgeries even in remote parts of the country.
  • By energizing the populace and fostering strong relationships with service providers and the people they serve, we have the recipe for making dramatic changes in Sierra Leone. We don’t compare ourselves with any other nation; we’re competing with ourselves. We set bold and seemingly impossible targets, and we work towards achieving them. It’s exciting and a real opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.
Mission Sierra Leone pour une chirurgie équitable

Dr. Austin Dembys view on partnering with organizations for sustainable and fair solutions

Our collaboration with organizations like Mercy Ships is instrumental in delivering surgical services and investing in training local healthcare professionals. Their unwavering dedication to service, driven by the spirit of teamwork, care, and hope, is truly commendable. Their service delivery provides people with hope, tackling challenges that are difficult to comprehend.

The investment in training counterparts from nurses and anesthesiologists to technicians and counselors — to just see how this is done with tender loving care for patients is incredible. Our residents are lining up to go and provide services and training on the ships. Additionally, we are thrilled about the prospect of dental care training and the establishment of a dental school in our country. These initiatives signify a significant step towards building a self-sufficient healthcare system that can thrive long after Mercy Ships’ departure.

Additionally, the current gathering of the West African College of Surgeons to Sierra Leone in Freetown is a huge milestone, providing an opportunity to showcase our progress and foster collaboration among West African nations. We expect over 700 surgeons from throughout the continent and beyond. They are here to have very candid deliberations on the state of surgeries in Africa and what the future holds for the continent, and where we should be driving our focus.

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Education, Health, and Food Security: The Triad for National Development

Dr. Austin Demby says:

Our country, like many others, grapples with a host of challenges. However, our unwavering commitment lies in addressing these issues, particularly in the realms of education, health, and food security, serving as fundamental pillars driving national development forward.

  1. 1. Sierra Leone’s journey towards a healthier and more prosperous future begins with education. Our healthcare priorities are investing in education to ensure knowledge acquisition and the development of individuals to their full potential.
  2. Coupled with education is the imperative for a healthy population. An educated, healthy populace is better equipped to contribute to national development, breaking the cycle of poverty and fostering a robust society.
  3. Food security is the third element of our triad, recognizing that a well-nourished population is better positioned to thrive, both physically and mentally.


Picture of Dr. Austin Demby
Dr. Austin Demby

Minister of Health and Sanitation for the Government of Sierra Leone

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