An update on the Sierra Leone Social Health Insurance

  • Overview of Sierra Leone Social Health Insurance


The Sierra Leone Social Health Insurance Scheme (SLeSHI) is about sustaining Free Health Care in Sierra Leone and ultimately reaching Universal Health Coverage. Beneficiaries of any of the free health care initiatives (pregnant and lactating mothers, children under five and people suffering from Malaria, TB or HIV/AIDS) will all be exempt from premiums. However, the financing structures to pay for their treatment can be part of the wider financial structure for Government provision of public health care. In this way, the scheme should both help Government raise money for health care and create the unified structures necessary for Government to buy into health care that is currently largely donor funded.

  • SLeSHI: Progress and achievements


The Government has constituted a Technical Committee comprising of representatives from both Government institutions and partners to design SLeSHI. A blue print has been developed, pilot districts selected (Bo and Koinadugu), institutional arrangement approved whilst the benefits package is being designed. Additionally, preparatory work is at an advanced stage for an impact evaluation that will not only assess willingness and ability to pay for the scheme, but will also provide the baseline that will be used to assess the impact of the scheme after the pilot. A pre-pilot was conducted in rainy season and the questionnaire was administered to health workers, communities and patients. Furthermore, it was planned to use mobile credit vendors as a distribution channel for the insurance policies. The method was tested at some vendors and their feedback obtained. The premium is yet to be defined, but if there could be found a way to pay smaller amounts regularly, the system using the mobile credit vendors could be a success.

A facility assessment is being planned in order to provide an overview on the situation of the facilities in the two pilot districts. The assessment will include public, private and faith-based facilities and also hospitals, laboratories and community-led referral system. The general infrastructure of the district (transport, communication, human resources) shall be analyzed too. The facility assessment could also be done through desk analysis, using existing findings.

  • SLeSHI: Outlook and recommendations

SLeSHI was paused due to the Ebola outbreak. The President assigned the lead of the project to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to re-commence progress.

Another option that has come up during the pre-pilot in the field, was to make it a two step process and change the design slightly. In a first step and to encourage people to use the facilities again, all drugs at primary care level could be made free. Apart from the free health care drugs, the amount of drugs distributed at primary level was USD 200,000 in 2013. It would probably be possible to make all drugs free for a cost of less than USD 1,000,000, which could be a very cost-effective way to increase trust into government facilities again. However, another approach would be to redesign the Free Health Care Initiative slightly to target the poor. This could work through the Performance-Based-Financing PLUS scheme, which would pay higher subsidies for vulnerable patients. Making all drugs free could on the contrary be regressive (anti-poor) again.

In a second step, secondary care could be included in an insurance scheme. During the pre-pilot, it became clear that a lot of people go directly to hospitals or are referred to hospitals because they can’t be treated in PHUs. There is a need to cover this cost.

In the academic discussion, a voluntary insurance scheme which SLeSHI would most resemble in its current design, is regarded as not effective, nor efficient. Administrative costs are high and in the case of SLeSHI would have constituted more than 100% of the premium for each insured. That means that SLeSHI would create additional administrative structures but not address the issues on the ground of quality of care. Furthermore, the effect of health insurance in Africa is currently at the heart of the debate and results from existing insurance schemes are discouraging. The current SLeSHI design as it stands has to be reviewed carefully in order for it to achieve its target of better and wider access to care and protection against health risks.

A review is planned to take place in 2015 to assess the feasibility and options for a National Health Insurance in Sierra Leone. The advice of the technical personnel being involved so far is to hold on for now and focus on other ways to strengthen the health sector. In essence, SLeSHI would cost more than raise for Government and likely fail to reduce poverty.

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