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©VSO/Georgie Scott

Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, the Ebola crisis that began in 2014 forced businesses to close and essential services to be stretched and suspended. Since then, VSO has mainly worked with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and other strategic partners, in order to strengthen health systems and outcomes.

Before Ebola, Sierra Leone had one of the world’s highest rates of mothers and babies dying in childbirth. As the Ebola outbreak worsened, many expectant mothers avoided hospitals for fear of contracting the disease. Even now that Sierra Leone is Ebola-free, mothers are still choosing to give birth at home. This has driven up the death rates of mothers and babies even further.

VSO has distributed protective equipment and trained 1,301 health workers in how to use it. We also help to broadcast the message that hospitals are the safest place to give birth. This is done through community volunteers, radio jingles, and text and phone support lines.

VSO supported 300 health workers in telling people about better hygiene, especially near water wells. We renovated over 25 water wells, so now 20 communities have better access to clean and safe water. 

Recent results:

  • 10% increase in women giving birth at health facilities
  • 12% increase in women accessing maternal services in hardest-hit districts

Women’s sexual health and rights

Karitu Joe mother and children in Sierra Leone | VSO VSO/Heather Alcock

Karitu Joe and her husband (not pictured), who used to beat her, have been supported by VSO's project with FINE Salone

A quarter of all women in Sierra Leone have given birth by the time they reach 20 years old. Four in ten women who die during pregnancy or childbirth are teenagers. Pregnancy is the third most common reason for teenage girls dropping out of school. Women face high rates of domestic violence and female genital mutilation.

VSO is supporting our local partner FINE Salone to protect the right of women and improve their access to justice. The project works with men and boys to raise awareness of the women’s rights and the law, and encourage traditional leaders to uphold it.

Recent results:

  • By-laws introduced across Kenema to protect women
  • Setting up a school for pregnant teenage girls during the Ebola outbreak
  • Increase in reporting cases of gender-based violence to police. Stations in the project communities are receiving eight times the number of case reports compared to neighbouring areas outside the project.

Latest updates

What makes VSO different?

VSO is working in Sierra Leone at all levels of society: from direct community action, partnerships with regional and national organisations, all the way up to governmental departments. This gives us a unique insight into the issues most gravely affecting the country. On top of that, it means we can work with people at all levels of society, which means our approach has a much better chance of taking root and having a lasting effect.

VSO is not just a partner but rather an enabler that places its partners first. The VSO staff were also very much behind making sure we collectively succeed to not only end Ebola, but most importantly, change attitudes, culture and practices for improved health outcomes.

Water Sanitation and Hygiene Network

Our partners

VSO’s main partner in Sierra Leone is the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, alongside civil society organisations including Water Sanitation and Hygiene Network (WASH-NET), Fambul Initiative Network for Equality (FINE Salone) and Engineers without Borders.

Other strategic partnerships include WaterAid and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Through our support last year, partners made improvements in:

  • Telling people about the rights of women
  • Access to clean and safe water
  • Telling people about better hygiene and sanitation
  • Death rates of women and babies during childbirth
  • Availability of critical, lifesaving equipment
  • Training health workers

A lot of new ideas were learnt and could be applied in EWB’s future strategic planning, like VSO’s People’s First approach. It showed clearly how effective VSO’s programmes have been.

Engineers Without Borders

Contact us

Phone: +232 78 761915 / +232 79 251888
Address: 192, Upper Kandeh Drive, Off Wilkinson Road, Freetown, Sierra Leone


Interested in volunteering?

Find out more about volunteering in Sierra Leone