Director of the Hope Medical Mission Dahan Sheref is dedicating his career to strengthening health care education in his home country of Sierra Leone. He and his colleagues shared their goals of a healthier future for the citizens of Sierra Leone in a recent panel discussion at the SON.
Clinical assistant professor Jean Davison, DNP, RN, FNP-C, began the session with an update on the Ebola pandemic in Western Africa. At the time of her presentation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted that if the pandemic was not properly addressed, Ebola could infect as many as 1.4 million people in Liberia and Sierra Leone by 2015.
The outbreak, said Ms. Davison, has stressed Sierra Leone’s frail health care system. Prior to the outbreak, there were only 0.3 doctors per 10,000 citizens and 1.7 nurses or midwives per 10,000 citizens. Recently, the Sierra Leone government enforced a 3-day lockdown, during which thousands of volunteers visited people in their homes to educate them about Ebola. “That was a major effort in a country that has really poor health infrastructure,” she said. “One root cause of the outbreak in Sierra Leone is the small health care work force.”
Sierra Leone wasn’t always facing a health crisis. SON staff member Isata Scott, who grew up in Sierra Leone, showed how shifts in politics and government led to an increasingly small number of health care workers. “This crisis didn’t happen overnight,” she said. “It happened over years of brain drain, constant marginalization [of professional workers], and depletion of resources through corrupt means.”
Now Dr. Dahan Sheref, MD and the Hope Medical Mission (Hope Med) executive director Pamela Bonner are trying to reverse the “brain drain” in Sierra Leone. In addition to opening three clinics in Sierra Leone, Hope Med established the Grace School of Science to prepare young men and women for advanced studies in science and medicine. During his presentation, Dr. Sheref spoke of his goals to enhance health education in Sierra Leone. “The need for education is overwhelming,” he said. “What we actually need is not to import people to go work there [Sierra Leone], but to train our people.”
The next step, said Dr. Sheref is to establish a school of nursing. Currently, there is only one school of nursing in all of Sierra Leone and through Hope Med, he is hoping to establish a second one. They plan to teach students through distance education in which lectures are recorded abroad and proctored by a local instructor.
Ms. Davison is one of many international volunteers Dr. Sheref has turned to for advice on establishing the school. In 2013, she and her husband traveled to Sierra Leone to assist Dr. Sheref with his plans and to teach classes for health care workers. Dr. Sheref hopes other health professionals in the US will consider volunteering their talents with Hope Med.