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Sierra Leonean Medics Raise Issues Faced by Children Under 5 in a Pandemic

With medical resources diverted to the pandemic, years of progress in children’s healthcare are under threat. At Ola During children’s hospital, the only one of its kind in Sierra Leone, Nellie Bell has to fight disease and chronic shortages. As well as lacking a working X-ray machine, the 42-year-old doctor is constrained by the lack of “simple things”, such as thermometers. Until recently Bell was the only paediatrician in a country where one child in 10 dies before their fifth birthday. Then she became Sierra Leone’s second registered coronavirus case. With Ebola still fresh in people’s minds, the government took drastic measures and Bell was quarantined at a military hospital. When a number of staff also tested positive, her whole hospital was shut down. The pandemic has had a serious impact on healthcare in other ways. Rising numbers of malaria cases are in line with the WHO’s fear that progress in combating the mosquito-borne disease could go into reverse as resources are reallocated to deal with Covid. Early in the pandemic parents refused to go to hospitals for fear of catching the virus or, since Covid and malaria share fever as a symptom, people were afraid of being quarantined.