Samuel Kargbo, Sierra Leone
Free healthcare for children and pregnant women has seen immediate results in Sierra Leone
As both a practitioner and a government official, Dr Samuel Kargbo has played a key role in tackling Sierra Leone's shocking maternal and infant mortality rates. While the health situation in his homeland may be less than perfect, he insists they are making progress.
More about this health hero
In 2006, Dr Samuel A.S Kargbo received a wake-up call: something which opened his eyes to the desperate need to reform the healthcare system in Sierra Leone. It was the death of a young woman named Aminata Marah. She arrived at the hospital in Kabala - where Samuel was working as the only doctor at the time - pregnant and bleeding after a three day journey. Despite being rushed to the operating theatre, Aminata died.
Four years later, Samuel is convinced she would not suffer the same fate today. As the director of reproductive and child health for Sierra Leone's ministry of health, Samuel has played an instrumental part in launching the government's initiative making healthcare free for pregnant women and children under five in April this year.
In a country which has one of the worst child and maternal mortality rates in the world, Samuel's work to abolish user fees is critical. In Sierra Leone, one in five children die before their first birthday, and around 70 per cent of the population live on less than a dollar a day. With simple consultations costing up to a month's income, those often most in need of care were rarely able to afford it.
It was not easy. As Samuel explains, Sierra Leone needed more drugs, better salaries and incentives – but the government had limited resources, and needed support to put in practice the changes to user fees. But, despite the challenges, they did it. Since the launch of the initiative, Sierra Leone has seen an incredible increase in demand for health services which, while clearly positive, also puts a huge strain on the health system. At one point, Samuel even had to go on the country's national radio station to tell mothers to only bring children most in need of care to the health facilities.
Samuel refused to turn his back on his country and continued to practice as a doctor during Sierra Leone's brutal civil war, all too aware of the desperate need for healthcare services. His commitment to the cause cannot be questioned, and through his actions Samuel is saving the lives of mothers and babies every day.
Samuel is a health hero.