3 Questions with Dr. Samuel Juana Smith: Leading the charge against malaria in Sierra Leone

3 Questions with Dr. Samuel Juana Smith: Leading the charge against malaria in Sierra Leone

Dr. Samuel Juana Smith is the program manager for the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) in Sierra Leone. As a malaria expert, he has nearly a decade of experience leading the nation’s response to malaria. HRH2030’s Capacity Building for Malaria activity supports countries such as Sierra Leone to achieve their malaria control and elimination goals.   

 

  1. Tell us about the malaria situation in Sierra Leone and the success your program has achieved over the past few years.

Malaria is one of the priority public health diseases in Sierra Leone. It transmits throughout the year – so every individual in Sierra Leone is actually at a risk of getting malaria; however, children and pregnant women are most susceptible.

To address the disease burden, we have developed a strategic plan spanning from 2016 to 2020. In collaboration with our partners and other stakeholders, we are working to scale up all the cost-effective interventions at our disposal and ensure that we achieve our set goals and objectives.  For example, we are scaling up robust interventions like bed net distribution and case management – both preventive and curative solutions which have led to slight but important decreases in malaria prevalence and incidence. We do have certain areas in the northern part of Sierra Leone where the burden remains very high, but we have targeted strategies for those areas.

  1. Sierra Leone has also had success in engaging both the public and private sector in the fight against malaria. Can you give us one example of how the private sector is contributing to your efforts?

One of the key initiatives in our strategic plan is to ensure that we strengthen public-private partnerships, because we alone cannot decrease the malaria burden. We need people and partners to complement our efforts. All of us have one common vision, one common goal and objective.

We first partnered with 36 public health facilities around the country to support the implementation of preventive and curative services. We provide them with drugs and diagnostic materials, data collection and reporting tools, coaching and mentoring, and they report to us through the health information system, the DHIS2 platform, where all relevant district-level malaria data is collected and integrated into the national database.

Quite recently, we expanded our efforts to also partner with private pharmaceutical outlets. In Sierra Leone, a lot of people in urban settings purchase over-the-counter malaria drugs when they get a fever, but fever is just one symptom of malaria. This irrational use of antimalarials, antibiotics, and analgesics, is called “polypharmacy.” As a result, we engaged the pharmacy board of Sierra Leone, who have opted to receive support from the NMCP. We now provide them with malaria rapid diagnostic testing (mRDTs) kits free of cost – the same way we provide mRDTs to public health facilities – free of cost!

We have since developed and signed a memorandum of understanding with both the public and private institutions to define specific roles and responsibilities in the fight against malaria – because all of us have the same vision: to ensure that we reduce the malaria burden.

  1. Through our Capacity Building for Malaria (CBM) activity, HRH2030 has been working with the NMCP in close coordination with the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative to build country capacity and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Global Fund grant implementation, contributing to the overarching shared goal of reducing malaria deaths. How has HRH-CBM been supporting you and your team as you move toward malaria control?

HRH2030-CBM has been very supportive because, first and foremost, they are supporting the national strategic plan. The NMCP’s capacity building component is very crucial, so we’ve been developing our work plan with HRH2030 to ensure that we capacitate the different areas where we think we need to do more. HRH2030 and Kwabena Larbi (the HRH2030 senior technical advisor embedded within the NMCP) were also very involved in our efforts to engage the private sector – in planning, implementation, monitoring, and the like.

I will say, HRH2030 is part and parcel of the program. They are not like an outsider, they are right in it. We plan together, we sit together, we eat together, we monitor together, and we do evaluation together. It has been a very inclusive process, and definitely added value to our entire program and activity output.

Photo: Dr. Samuel Juana Smith in his office. As the National Malaria Control Program manager, he is in charge of the implementation of the national  strategic plan to reduce malaria in Sierra Leone.