WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE DO
Supporting the Nixon Memorial Hospital to improve health in Segbwema
Friends of Nixon was founded in 2012 as a UK based charity to provide ongoing support to the hospital. The trustees have direct backgrounds with the hospital or the Segbwema area and the charity supports via fundraising, infrastructure, training and volunteer recruitment.
Sierra Leone is a costal country about the size of Scotland on the west coast of Africa. The Portuguese first colonised the coastal areas and named the country Sierra Leone because the hills rising up behind what is now Freetown resembled the image of a crouching lion.
Sierra Leone was granted independence from Britain in 1961, when Freetown was dubbed the Athens of Africa for its proud reputation as a centre of learning.
With a national life expectancy of 53 years and an under-five mortality rate of 110 per 1000 live births, Sierra Leone has some of the biggest healthcare challenges internationally. Further statistics are available here.
ORIGINS OF THE HOSPITAL
The hospital has its origins around 1930, when a nurse who was the wife of a British Methodist minister started treating the sick on the veranda of their bungalow. Around 1950, Alderman John Nixon (previously Lord Mayor of Newcastle) approached the officers of the Methodist Missionary Society to donate money for medical services in the developing world in memory of his wife and the need for a hospital in Segbwema was suggested. Thus a large amount of money was provided and wards, out patients and a nursing school developed with both ex-patriot and local staff. During the subsequent decades the Nixon Hospital progressed to become a centre of clinical excellence with a widely acclaimed nursing school and a renowned centre for Lassa Fever research.
With the invasion by rebels in 1991 from neighbouring Liberia supported by Charles Taylor, the already dire situation in Sierra Leone escalated into full scale civil war. Taylor was intent on exploiting the vast diamond deposits in Kono. This encroachment heralded one of the most brutal and savage conflicts in the history of Africa. Rebels rampaged the countryside ransacking and destroying infrastructure and communities while forcing children into conscription. Over 55,000 were killed mostly in the east and south of the country. Countless thousands were maimed and mutilated and over 1 million were displaced.
Sadly as a result of the Sierra Leone civil war the hospital infrastructure and buildings were destroyed, equipment looted, staff fled and the hospital eventually closed.
At the end of the war, a few staff started to return to the hospital including the current medical superintendent Dr Missa who initially slept on the floor of the under 5s clinic.
There has been progress over the last decade in the redevelopment of the hospital facilities. The nursing school re-opened in 2006 with 300 students, and the hospital resumed the provision of inpatient and outpatient treatment together with a community health programme. The operating theatre was refurbished between 2011 and 2012 and was re-equipped. Various visiting doctors have helped support its clinical work and technical teams have assisted in improving water supplies and setting up solar lighting for the wards.
As the hospital continued its re-development in 2014 it tragically found itself at the centre of the Ebola epidemic that swept across West Africa. Sadly the hospital lost 5 staff members to Ebola, including 4 nurses. This, together with the passing away of the hospital's long serving theatre master earlier in the year, had a significant impact on the ability of the hospital to meet the healthcare needs of Segbwema and its surrounds. During the epidemic the Nixon nursing school was closed and activity at the hospital was very limited, in part due to the community's mistrust of all healthcare institutions and misunderstandings regarding Ebola. The Ebola outbreak had tragic direct consequences but also highlighted the persistent fragility of health care structures across Sierra Leone of which Nixon Hospital was not exempt.
Thankfully, with support the hospital is now beginning to move forward. The nursing school re-opened in April 2015, the hospital's community work focusing on latrines and sanitation has restarted, and the numbers of women delivering their babies on the maternity ward continues to increase. To ensure its viability and sustainability the government of Sierra Leone has pledged to subsidise a proportion of staff salaries.
"Friends of Nixon" is one of a number of partner organisations who look forward to continuing to support the hospital's development with a focus on community health work, training, education and infrastructure support.