Bringing contraception to Sierra Leone

Every year, thousands of women in Sierra Leone die from pregnancy-related causes—and most of those deaths are preventable with access to contraception and other reproductive healthcare.

The country has one of the highest rates of pregnancy-related deaths in the world, and unsafe abortions cause an estimated 10% of those deaths. The country also has a high rate of teenage pregnancy—nearly one-third of girls there become mothers before age 19.

Women and girls in Sierra Leone urgently need quality reproductive healthcare. That’s why, since 1986, MSI has worked to provide access to contraception and care after unsafe abortion. We’re known locally as “de mammy fo welbodi” or “the mother of health”, and we go wherever we’re needed – from centers in the bustling city of Freetown to outreach teams reaching the most remote communities. In fact, MSI Sierra Leone provides more than half of all contraception in the country.

Reaching every corner of Sierra Leone isn’t always easy. Courageous nurses like Elizabeth Mattia even wade through mangrove swamps to reach remote island communities with reproductive healthcare! She’s committed to serving Bonthe Island and the surrounding region, an area that faces high rates of teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortion.

Sixty miles away, at a village in Bo District, Fatmata Sesay shares Elizabeth’s commitment to bringing reproductive healthcare to her community. She first heard about MSI when they visited her village and began explaining the benefits of contraception.

Elizabeth Mattia travels to remote communities in Sierra Leone.

On that first day of outreach, many villagers left angry, believing the myth that contraception makes people infertile. But Fatmata realized the opportunities contraception could provide the women in her village.

She tried talking to her neighbors about how contraception could benefit them. When they ignored her, she reached out to MSI, eager to help her community but not sure how. MSI trained her as a Community Based Mobilizer, giving her tips on how to approach her community and the knowledge to debunk myths.

Fatmata Sesay tells women in her village about contraception.

At first, Fatmata’s neighbors remained doubtful. But after Fatmata’s daughter received a contraceptive implant, others in the community started to see the benefits. Now, young women in the community know that they can turn to MSI to help them avoid unwanted pregnancies and complete their education.

What’s next for Sierra Leone? MSI has kept services going through a civil war, the Ebola epidemic, and now a global pandemic—and we’re not slowing down. No matter what, we’ll be there for women and girls, going any distance to provide reproductive healthcare that helps women control their own destinies.

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