After surgery or illness, many patients in Sierra Leone are confined to their hospital beds for several weeks due to the lack of physiotherapy. Patients and relatives have to pay daily rates to the hospital and this lack of physiotherapy places heavy economic burdens on their families.
A BSc educational programme in physiotherapy has never existed in Sierra Leone. At present, there are only four qualified physiotherapists and one occupational therapist, all having been educated in other African countries. There are an unknown but likely small number of locally educated physiotherapy assistants at hand to cover the needs of the 6 million people living in the country.
Before the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991–2002), ‘Masanga Leprosy Hospital’ led the country in its development of a therapy unit with a specialist centre built and funded by an American 7th Day Adventist charity. Physiotherapy was a routine part of the treatment but during the war, the hospital was overrun by the rebels and closed. The hospital reopened in 2006 by Dr Peter Bo (Masnaga DK) and re-establishing the physiotherapy department was imperative to offer the essential services to the patients.
In 2013, Marie Børresen (DK) and Johanna Potter (UK) volunteered as physiotherapists at Masanga Hospital for six months. When they arrived, the reality that met them was a hospital full of bedridden patients suffering from major bedsores, contractures, and prolonged hospital admissions. The hospital culture expected patients to stay in bed until their recovery, but without any emphasis on physical rehabilitation.
During their six months stay, Marie and Jo re-established physical therapy at Masanga Hospital and managed to train four local employees in basic anatomy, physiology, and physiotherapy resulting in a Certificate of Rehabilitation. This Certificate was accredited by the Tonkolili District College of Health Sciences (TDCoHS). The four employees were employed full time by Masanga Hospital and their work emphasized to the local population how important physical activity is for a quick recovery and discharge from hospital.
When Jo and Marie left the hospital in 2013, four physio aides had acquired the necessary skills to continue with basic physiotherapy treatment in a newly established physiotherapy department. This work, along with a conscious effort to improve wound care, resulted in the shortening of post-surgical admissions by several months.
The training of the four physio aides continued under guidance of two new volunteer physiotherapists. One of these, Jonas Ipsen, managed to get in touch with the Sierra Leonean Association of Rehabilitation Therapists (SLART). SLART showed a great desire to start up a physiotherapy educational programme of international standards, but lacked the necessary resources to carry out the project, by themselves.
Jonas was followed by Laerke Winther (DK) who made significant progress to establish an MSc programme at Masanga. She was followed by Hayley Netley (UK) and Marie Riisgaard (DK) who all forged strong ties with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and other expat physios in the country.
Project lead Marie Børresen, heads up the project from Denmark ably assisted by group made from previous volunteers and new additions from both Denmark and the UK.
The course is now awaiting accreditation from TDCoHS but the curriculum is finalised and has been accredited by the WCPT. Our main aim now is to source sufficient funds to start the project as well as attract lecturers who would be happy to work with expenses paid.
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