August 09

Forming Partnerships

What does it mean to partner? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the archaic term of partner is defined as “one that shares: a partaker” and the primary modern definitions is “one associated with another especially in action”. In the first month of working with Partners In Health Sierra Leone (PIH-SL), I’ve learned about how they live out their commitment of forming partnerships, and I started partaking in ways I can make my own contribution to these efforts.

When the Ebola outbreak had reached peak levels of contamination in 2014, the Government of Sierra Leone invited Partners In Health to join the fight. The decision to accept this invitation was not for a temporary commitment of responding to the outbreak– PIH-SL was established to stay in Sierra Leone for the long term. Even while responding to the immediate needs of Ebola victims, PIH-SL worked closely with the government to understand how this crisis shattered an already fragile health system. They supported the renovation and re-establishment of the Koidu Government Hospital in the Kono District. I’ve enjoyed spending close to half of my time in Kono where I meet the warmest people who farm peacefully and live in simple contentment. Just a few kilometers away from the hospital, PIH-SL offers free health care services at a community health center called Wellbody Clinic. The investments made into the government hospital and community clinic have increased the quality of care for the people in this area where more than half a million people live in poverty. Today, people of all ages visit the Wellbody Clinic to seek primary care like routine immunizations, malnutrition screening, lab tests, disease treatment, and pre-natal check-ups. One of the main projects I am working on is to create One-Page resources for our Policy & Partnership team to utilize with donors, stakeholders, and other NGO partners. These resources will summarize all the work PIH-SL is doing to Strengthen the Health System in each of these areas:

  • Primary Care
  • Secondary Care
  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Community Based Programs

Partnering with the community is done by PIH-SL in a variety of ways from delivering quality care & providing social assistance, to creating jobs & training programs. Approaching patient care with the concept of accompaniment has been a key success factor in tackling diseases. In this model of care, the Community Health Worker (CHW) is at the center of the system as they make house calls to these patients on a regular basis to educate them about potential side effects of their treatment, counsel them on staying compliant to the medications, and assess any social barriers they might be facing. I had the privilege of shadowing a CHW named Ibrahim during his patient visits a few weeks ago and was so impressed by witnessing how this approach to patient care builds trust and improves outcomes.

I believe that the dedicated time– to visit with the patients, hear their stories, and respond to their needs– has an amazing healing power of its own. The CHW is trusted by their communities and they liaison with the Village Chiefs to promote the primary care services offered at the Wellbody Clinic which has seen a 67% increase in new patient visits in the first six-months of this year compared to the same period last year. This represents the community’s increased confidence in modern medicine and the health services offered. Much of this success is attributed to the partnership among the people who work at Partners In Health. Almost 95% of the workforce PIH-SL hires are local Sierra Leoneans so over a hundred Community Health Workers, scores of medical staff, two fleets of drivers, operational support, and administrative personnel are among the jobs created. As part of my assignment, I’m also responsible for the internal communications which aim to keep all the employees informed and connected. We have a monthly Friday Feeling Newsletter which features a different Department each month with their goals, purpose, & challenges. Then that Department Head nominates 4 employees to be announced each week on the Monday Morning Motivation email with a brief profile and photograph. Here is an example of one of the employees I wrote about:

Edith Shekee joined PIH as a community health worker (CHW) almost three years ago. She is one of over 100 CHWs deployed to make patient house calls in Kono District. “What I love most about my job is learning the right way to approach people and how to talk to all fellow human beings,” said Edith. “PIH has taught me to accompany patients to the facility and how to prevent HIV and TB.” Edith’s favorite quote has always been: “No success without struggle”. She learned about struggle from an early age when her father, a farmer, died when she was nine years old. Edith has always used these words to drive her forwards in working hard to support herself and her mother. When asked about hobbies, Edith shared proudly: “I love to read, sing, dance, and most of all, I love my job!”

It is truly amazing to be part of a team that is driven by such purpose and passion! I’ve learned so much this past month and look forward to what the rest of the year will bring. I hope you enjoy following my journey as much as I am living through it! 😊 My goal is to post an article by the 10th of each month so until September, I’m signing off for now.