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Citation Information

Type Journal Article - International health
Title When free healthcare is not free. Corruption and mistrust in Sierra Leone's primary healthcare system immediately prior to the Ebola outbreak
Author(s)
Volume 7
Issue 6
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2015
Page numbers 400-404
URL https://academic.oup.com/inthealth/article-abstract/7/6/400/2458852
Abstract
Introduction: Sierra Leone is one of three countries recently affected by Ebola. In debates surrounding the
circumstances that contributed to the initial failure to contain the outbreak, the word ‘trust’ is often used: In
December 2014, WHO director Margret Chan used ‘lack of trust in governments’; The Lancet’s editor-in-chief,
wrote how Ebola has exposed the ‘… breakdown of trust between communities and their governments.’ This
article explores the lack of trust in public healthcare providers in Sierra Leone, predating the Ebola outbreak,
apparently linked to widespread petty corruption in primary healthcare facilities. It compares four NGOsupported
accountability interventions targeting Sierra Leone’s primary health sector.
Methods: Field research was conducted in Kailahun, Kono and Tonkolili Districts, based on interviews with health
workers and focus group discussions with primary healthcare users.
Results: Field research showed that in most clinics, women and children entitled to free care routinely paid for
health services.
Conclusions: A lack of accountability in Sierra Leone’s health sector appears pervasive at all levels. Petty corruption
is rife. Understaffing leads to charging for free care in order to pay clinic-based ‘volunteers’ who function as
vaccinators, health workers and birth attendants. Accountability interventions were found to have little impact
on healthworker (mis)behaviour.

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