Influential Sierra Leonean Catholic priest calls for investment in private sector-led primary health care

NEW YORK – The Executive Director of Caritas Freetown Reverend Father Peter Alpha Konteh says Sierra Leone and other West African nations should prioritize and introduce private sector-led primary healthcare care services.

Father Konteh, who is at the forefront of community relief, development, and empowerment assistance programs in Sierra Leone, made the remarks during a telephone call with Globe Afrique and other media groups in the United States.

He said the population could prevent or control diseases, viruses, and other medical conditions if primary health care remains an integral part of people’s lives in Africa, particularly Sierra Leone.

“With the presence of the Coronavirus (COVID 19), if we have a private sector-led primary healthcare system that is effective, efficient, and responsive, and well staff that would change the calculus in the way we view prevention and wellness in Sierra Leone. Hence, it would reduce the disparity in healthcare as well as make access and affordability much easier.”

Adding, “This is what having a private sector-led primary healthcare system would have done in Sierra Leone at this time of the global pandemic. If any Sierra Leone thinks he or she is exposed to COVID‑19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, they would immediately call their private healthcare provider for medical advice.”

Father Konteh said he is actively engaged and working with some consultants in the United States to help Sierra Leone develop a private sector-led primary health care capacity nationwide in Sierra Leone.

The Caritas Freetown boss said, “the current Government of Sierra Leone is focused on unique human and economic development blueprints and goals that would transform the country and improve the lives of most Sierra Leoneans in the not too far future. However, it is our role as faith-based groups, nonprofit and community-based organizations, and businesses to support and collaborate with the government on projects that support and strengthen the country.”

“No country or community is strong or would develop if its people are not healthy. Instead of the focus being on curative care, Sierra Leone, as a country, must push for developing a robust primary care system that should be private sector-led,” the influential Catholic priest said.

Most developed nations have established an effective primary care system, which helps with containing major health crisis such as the COVID 19.

The central role of primary health care is to provide continuous and comprehensive care to patients.

Supporters of primary health care refers to it as the “essential health care” that is based on scientifically sound and socially acceptable methods and technology. They maintained that primary healthcare makes universal health care accessible to all individuals and families in any community.

Father Konteh, who is in contact with a U.S.-based think tank professional at Comprehensive Healthcare to study the feasibility as well as design a framework for a national private sector-led primary health care system for Sierra Leone, says, the benefits of primary health care which include a). Increased Access to Health Services, b) Improved Quality of Care, c) Focus on Prevention, d) Early Management of Health Conditions, and e) Reduced Need for Specialist Care outweight any national agenda that a country can choose to undertake.

Generally, primary health care involves services that cover a range of prevention, wellness, and treatment for common illnesses. Primary care providers include doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. They often maintain long-term relationships with their patients and advise and treat patients on a range of health-related issues.

At the Alma Ata conference held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, 6–12 September 1978, the international community, including the UN World Health Organization, put forward eight essential aspects of primary health care as follows: Health education, adequate of safe drinking water, nutrition, immunization, provision of essential drugs, availability and distribution of medicine, treatment of communicable diseases.

The International Conference on Primary Health Care also expressed the need for urgent action by all governments, all health and development workers, and the world community to protect and promote the health of all people.

Father Konteh praised President Julius Maada Bio and the heads of various government agencies in Sierra Leone for being receptive and willing to listen to and work on new ideas and programs that seek to advance public-private partnerships as well as the national capacity of the country.

Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio

“Such a sign of courage, stewardship, patriotism, and move are necessary to develop and move Sierra Leone and any serious country forward.”

Father Konteh said, facilitating and investing in primary health care nationwide in Sierra Leone would create thousands of formal and self-employment jobs in the healthcare and various industries.

Adding, “We would be working with and continue to develop and encourage public-private partnerships with the Government of Sierra Leone in various sectoral development and sustainability efforts.

In last few months, Father Konteh has been engaged with policy and related professionals in Europe and the United States on finding ways to support public-private partnerships in Sierra Leone in efforts to create jobs for young people and to also improve food security..   

He said Caritas Freetown would study the possibilities of spearheading workforce development programs in information technology, solar energy, agriculture, as well as clothing design and fashion. The goal is to support the government’s efforts in creating jobs for Sierra Leoneans.

Father Konteh is also Executive Director of the Catholic Archdiocese of Freetown’s Development Office, which over the past several decades has been heavily engaged in humanitarian relief and socio-economic development as well as community empowerment program activities in the country. Generally, the Catholic Church of Sierra Leone has and continue to make massive contribution to the human development of Sierra Leone – from education, social justice and healthcare and rehabilitation services.

In the Diocese of Makeni, Northern Sierra Leone, the Catholic Church operates one of the best universities in the country. The University is led by the Reverend Father Dr. Joseph Turay, as president.

In Kenema, Eastern Sierra Leone, the Church operates a major pastoral, development and social education center.

The University and Center are in addition to several schools and institutions including hospitals and clinics operated by the Church throughout the country.

Father Konteh far-right making Sierra Leone’s case at a recent public-private partnership reflection conference in Switzerland.
Caritas Freetown staff distributes food to unemployed communities in Freetown in the midst of the COVID 19 crisis
Relief workers from Caritas Freetown providing services to needy residents
Rev, Fr. Peter Alpha Konteh working with his team to service needy people in Sierra Leone
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Paul Stevens

Paul Stevens is a researcher, media issues analyst and senior contributor with Globe Afrique.
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