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“It is time for all of us to clean up Sierra Leone," says Mrs Sia Koroma – First Lady of Sierra

Every parent has hopes and dreams for their children. We want them to succeed in life, learn more and achieve more than we have. Above all, we pray that they will grow into healthy adults, who will live productive and prosperous lives.

We all have it in our power to help our children have a healthier, better, safer start in life.

We know how important it is to keep them safe from childhood illnesses by taking them to the clinic for their childhood vaccinations. We know that sleeping under bed nets is effective against malaria.

Our children’s health can also be improved by investing time and energy in cleaning up the environment in which they live. Litter in Sierra Leone has become a public health hazard. It is polluting our environment, contaminating our water and directly contributes towards the diseases that lead to high child mortality rates in Sierra Leone.

By dumping our waste in rivers, streams and gutters, we contaminate the water our children rely on for washing and drinking. Families pay dearly for this. Almost 90 per cent of child deaths from diarrhoeal diseases are directly linked to contaminated water, lack of sanitation, or inadequate hygiene.

Unsafe water transmits other diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid. It creates a breeding ground for waterborne diseases - especially malaria which is an acute public health problem for the country.

There are few parents in this country who have not nursed their child through an attack of malaria and experienced the fear and sense of helplessness the disease brings. It contributes to an estimated 20 percent of child mortality and is the cause of nearly four in 10 hospital visits country-wide. Children under five are particularly vulnerable, accounting for an estimated 70 percent of all malaria deaths.

Parents pay in other ways too. The costs associated with waterborne diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and worm infections, represent more than one third of the income of poorer households. Money they can ill afford.

Leaving rubbish lying around attracts flies, cockroaches, rats, and other pests that in turn contaminate our food and spread sickness. Some of the most common diseases spread by vermin include typhoid, cholera, dysentery, and eye infections.

Then there are the unseen hazards. Rain washes contaminants from piles of rubbish into our soil. When we eat plants and animals that have been in contact with this soil, we are consuming the pollutants and poisons they contain - further putting our health at risk.

There is a solution. If we all work together towards cleaning up our nation; if we stop throwing our waste into gutters, streams and the sea; if we stop burning our rubbish or leaving it to pile up on the side of the road, we can all enjoy better health.

We can also contribute directly towards Sierra Leone’s economic growth. A healthier nation means more people able to take part in the workforce. We will be able to work more, earn more and work longer. We will have less days off for sickness and, as individuals and as a country, we will spend less on medicines and treatment for avoidable diseases.

Tourism, hotels and hospitality, fishing, agriculture, and construction are among the sectors that would all benefit if we cleaned up our country.

Sierra Leone is our home, our country, our responsibility and our future. It has great potential and great natural beauty, but we have allowed it to degenerate into an environment of dirt and ugliness.

Our surroundings reflect our way of life, and so I ask all my fellow Sierra Leoneans, let us change our thinking, change our surroundings and improve our quality of life. It is time for all of us to clean up Sierra Leone.

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