Discovering the villages of Sierra Leone, the life, the people, and the challenges they face in getting enough to eat and getting medical care.
In June 2012, I was fortunate to be able to travel to Sierra Leone (population 5.2 million) in an effort to work to improve animal healthcare services and public health. Sierra Leone is a poor country with many challenges to overcome. From 1991-2002, the country experienced a brutal civil war that took many lives and caused many more to flee their homes for safety. Rebels cut off the hands and arms of some people. Much of the infrastructure of the country was destroyed. Today, however, the country is under democratic leadership and is working toward economic improvement. Unfortunately, there is still much to do: Poverty remains high, as does youth unemployment. Roads are generally poor, electricity unreliable or nonexistent, life expectancy at birth is approximately 48 years, adult literacy rate is 41%, and the under 5 yr. child mortality rates are the fourth worst in the world. It is estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that 35% of the people are undernourished, with 40% of children suffering malnutrition and stunting of growth. Agricultural plays a significant role in sustenance, crops more than animals. Food animals such as goats, sheep, chickens, cattle, and pigs can provide a source of money when they sell the offspring. The animals can be sold in hard times, so they act as an emergency bank account. Eggs can be eaten or sold. Milk can be drunk, but there is little demand for milk commercially. Killing an animal for meat is uncommon, but does happen when an animal is raised for such a purpose, a festival, or has outlived it's purpose.
Unfortunately, there are just 5 veterinarians in all of Sierra Leone, so animal health suffers. There are few experts outside of the livestock officers to provide aid in animal production, health and medical care. Improving the health of the animals translates to improved weight gain, more offspring, more milk, more meat, more money, which means the family prospers and eats better. Animal health is tied to human health, there is no doubt. One of my jobs while there was to provide input into a new program the government is operating--the Community Animal Health Worker program. In this program, one or more individuals in a village volunteer to be trained in animal health and basic animal medial services. They serve their village, providing animal health expertise when no one else can. This is a much needed program, and it is just now getting started. I hope for its success.