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Profile: Professor Osman Sankoh: better data for better health PDF Print E-mail
Written by Expotimes   
Monday, 18 December 2017 17:37

Data are to health planning what pills are to pharmacy: a lack of the one impedes the effective practice of the other. And such a lack has long been one of the problems of health planners working in many African countries, says Professor Osman Sankoh(RIGHT) of the INDEPTH Network, a nongovernmental organisation based in Ghana. “Many people would come from overseas and collect cross-sectional data, and then they would go back and write it up”, he says. “But they would not be able to talk about how things change over time or what might be the cause of a health problem.”

A snapshot of how things are at one moment can’t answer such questions. Longer terms studies are needed, and INDEPTH with its mission statement “better health information for better health policy” was created some 20 years ago to do just this. A slice of the credit for what it has achieved belongs to Sankoh, first as manager of its scientific programmes and latterly as its overall Executive Director, a role from which, after 10 years, he is stepping down this month. “He’s been a real standard bearer”, says Professor Stephen Tollman of the School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

“He’s been unflagging in his advocacy of the Network as an instrument for monitoring progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals.”

The path that brought Sankoh to this role was littered with hurdles. Born in a village near the small Sierra Leonean town of Masiaka, he first enrolled at the University of Sierra Leone to study maths. But having then been denied a scholarship, he was unable to pay the fees and spent the next few years teaching maths and economics at local secondary schools.
In 1983, he entered Sierra Leone’s Njala University to study maths and English. This time he was able to complete the course and received a degree in education. After a couple more years as a research and teaching assistant at Njala, he won a scholarship to the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany to do a masters in statistics.

“I chose Germany because I wanted to learn another language”, he explains. But he could only start this course once he’d acquired a German undergraduate degree, which took another 3 years. By the time Sankoh had finished his MSc, politics in Sierra Leone were once again turning violent. “This was a time when things were rough in my country”, he says. “There was civil unrest. I couldn’t go back.” He stayed on in Dortmund to work as a research assistant at the Institute of Economic and Social Statistics, and embarked on a doctoral degree.

In 1999 the University of Heidelberg recruited him as a biostatistician to work on data from a large health and demographic surveillance system in Burkina Faso. When he finally returned full time to Africa, he’d spent no less than 8 years in Europe. But he has no regrets: “I enjoyed living in Germany.”

The job Sankoh came back to was not in Sierra Leone but in Accra, at the Ghanaian headquarters of the INDEPTH Network. The Network was dreamed up in the late 1990s by a small group of individuals with population-based research centres in various parts of Africa, who realised that they would achieve far more if they agreed to work together.

Through their health and demographic surveillance field sites in low-income and middle-income countries, the members of the INDEPTH Network undertake detailed longitudinal research. Their goal is to improve the lives of people in these countries by informing and influencing policy. “This is a really huge accomplishment”, says Professor Anastasia Gage of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, USA. And particularly so, she adds, “where it’s been possible to integrate data from surveillance sites with data from district hospitals”. This allows more follow-up of patients and can open the way to a better understanding of health behaviour and its motivations.

Among Sankoh’s particular contributions Gage picks out his efforts to see more people in middle-income and lowerincome countries trained in data analysis and in research. And also his wish to make collected data more available through open access systems. “He’s encouraged an interpretation of data from INDEPTH sites in a way that policy makers can understand.” She also speaks approvingly of a quite different interest of Sankoh’s: a book publishing enterprise he set up in 2009, the Sierra Leonean Writers Series.

This publishes novels, poetry, non-fiction, and technical books by authors of Sierra Leonean origin—among whom is Sankoh himself, writing as a poet. “Because of the war in Sierra Leone and its economic difficulties, he wanted to make a difference to the lives of younger people there”, says Gage.

“Osman’s goal has been to make the INDEPTH Network as strong and inclusive as it possibly can be, and to grow its contribution”, says Tollman. Looking to the future he adds, “The achievements [of INDEPTH] have been significant but, as the saying goes, the best is yet to come.”

Sankoh too foresees a continuing and growing need for the data collection, analysis, and interpretation that INDEPTH has shown itself able to provide. But he cautions that the Network’s future depends on the adequacy of core support without which it can’t function—and finding these core resources has grown harder over the years. This, however, will be a task for his successor. As he stands down from his role at INDEPTH Sankoh is returning to full-time scientific research and says his “specific interest will be to strengthen capacity for health research in Sierra Leone, my home country”.
Geoff Watts



26th IPRA Conference in Sierra Leone Ends on a High Note

The International Peace Research Association (IPRA) successfully held its 26th General Conference on ‘Agenda for Peace and Development: Conflict Prevention, Post-Conflict Transformation, and the Conflict, Disaster Risk and Sustainable Development Debate’ in collaboration with the 10TH Dealing With Disasters Series, Northumbria University (UK)and Sakarya University (Turkey) and  the University of  Sierra Leone at the Bintumani Conference Centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone from November 27 to 1st December 2016.


Business News


The Parliament of Sierra Leone on Monday 04th December 2017 debated and ratified two additional agreements aimed at improving and expanding Ports facilities in Sierra Leone to be at par with international best practices.

Presenting both Agreements prior to ratification, the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Balogun Koroma said that the additional Agreements are geared towards addressing some of the concerns raised by MPs, in respect of expanding our Ports facilities to accommodate larger vessels, and the issuance of license with the view of combating money laundering, contra-band goods, and attracting more funds for Government.

Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai, Minority Leader of the House, also supported the ratification of the two Agreements, saying if our Ports are not developed, we would not be able to attract huge vessels; thus the need for the continuous improvement of our Ports facilities.


Media News

"President Koroma is a big disappointment to press freedom" - SLAJ

Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, has said that President Ernest Bai Koroma has disappointed the media on press freedom in the country. 

“Successive governments have given us false hopes on the repeal of the criminal libel law. The politicians have lied to us. They have taken us to be big fools. President Koroma is our biggest disappointment. We had high hopes in him but he failed us woefully. So we will not trust any politician again, because when they get into office they forget about their promises,” said Nasralla.
Nasralla was speaking last Friday while formally launching a report on criminal defamation laws in Africa by PEN Sierra Leone at the SLAJ Harry Yansaneh Memorial Hall, Campbell Street, Freetown. 
He recalled that before he was first elected President of the Republic in 2007, President Koroma was a staunch campaigner against criminal libel law in Sierra Leone, but when he became President he suddenly had a different view.



Your Excellency Sir,

For over a month now, since the ECOWAS Regional Court in Abuja, Nigeria handed down their landmark opinion on the Vice President, Samuel Sam-Sumana’s appeal law suit against his “unconstitutional removal” from power by your APC government, having been legally sanctioned by the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, I have been taken, both by extreme trepidation and satisfaction, as I continue my reflection. In their ruling, (in resume,) the ECOWAS Courtoverturned” the Sierra Leone Supreme Court’s seemingly “compromised” opinion that saw Mr. Sam Sumana arbitrarily or constitutionally deposed from his position as the duly elected Vice President of Sierra Leone (alongside you,) midway your second presidential tenure in 2015; just after the infamous Ebola viral epidemic devastating scourge on Sierra Leone. The ECOWAS Court ruling therefore “ordered” the immediate reinstatement of the vice president, furthering that all backlog of his remunerations and emoluments be accorded him, from the time he was sacked, to date; along with his claim for damages of U. S. $ 250 million.

Upon the ruling by this higher regional court, I have had to do some very sober reflections and musing over the “political manoeuvres” and intrigues that originally erupted from an internal APC party wrangling that proceeded to the Sierra Leone parliament, and had to eventually culminate into what most objective and independent legal minds considered a “blatant travesty of justice and breach of our constitution.” This ruling also brought a legal embarrassment to the Sierra Leone justice system in the sub region, continent and world over. And whereas I would not want to meddle with the political ramifications and implications of that higher regional court’s “legal opinion,” I would like to briefly examine the moral and economic considerations, as I objectively see them. This then obviously takes me back to my caption question that I would summarize as “Who Pays the ECOWAS Court’s Ruling Charges??”


View Point


Dear Mr. President, events leading to, including the horrible aftermath of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease, the twin disasters of mudslide and flooding convey unarguably a fatalistic dose of stress. Worsening is the inflation of basic food stuff and the devaluation of our Leones which has made life very difficult for the average citizens.

Mr. President,stress is increasingly becoming visible in the conduct of most Sierra Leoneans; hence stress is a pressure or worry caused by the problems in somebody's life.

Before 2007 elections, protestation songs by Emmerson Bockarie, Innocent and "Dry yai crew" assumed the role of the opposition parties against the Tejan Kabbah-led SLPP government. Today, public transport cabs/buses, ghettos and the ‘Ataya base’ have now assumed that position in venting out frustrations against your APC led government.


News - Press Release

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation presents AWOL Awards to outgone Minister

(MFAIC Press Office, 4th January, 2018). The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Kaifala Marah has presented the All Walks Of Life (AWOL) prestigious award of ‘Best Ministry of the Year 2017’  to the outgone Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr. Samura M.W. Kamara at a press conference held at the Ministry’s conference Hall, Tower Hill, Freetown.

In his brief statement before officially handing over the award to the outgone Minister, Dr. Marah gave a brief overview of the introduction of performance contracts in 2014 by His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma that set in motion the process of enhancing and operational mandates in various MDAs. It is against this background that the Ministry was among the five best performing Ministries based on the outcome of the Ministry’s Performance Contract Assessment Report for 2016/17 (Performance Tracking Table – PTT) in the country.

Dr. Kaifala Marah lauded the relentless efforts of Dr. Samura M.W. Kamara, during whose tenure the Ministrydeveloped and articulated, for the first time ever, a comprehensive strategy to guide and re-invigorate the national approach to foreign policy and international cooperation in a rapidly changing global environment.


Society -Local News

Deputy Health Minister leads Seven-man delegation to the Fourth Conference of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration in Mauritania

A Seven-man delegation led by the Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation 1, Madam Madina Rahman have returned home after attending the Meeting of Experts of the Fourth Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration from 4-8 December 2017 in Nouakchott, Mauritania. The theme for the meeting was “Accelerating a coordinated improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics for implementation and monitoring of the development agenda in Africa: Review of progress and the way forward”.

The Meeting was attended by representatives from Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, the Comoros, Congo, Cote d’ Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, the Niger, Nigeria, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, the Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.




The Ambassador of the State of Israel to the Republic of Korea, His Excellency Ambassador Chaim Choshen today 4th January 2018 paid a courtesy call on Sierra Leone's Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, His Excellency Ambassador Omrie Michael Golley, at the Sierra Leone Mission in Seoul, the South Korean Capital. 

Ambassador Choshen, who was appointed as Ambassador of Israel to South Korea in August 2016, expressed his appreciation for being warmly received by his Sierra Leonean host and counterpart, and stated that his Government was very keen to expand its relations with Africa, citing the examples of Official Visits in recent months by the Israeli Prime Minister Mr Benjamin Netanyahu to various countries in Africa.

Recounting the recent Official Visit of His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma to Israel, Ambassador Omrie Golley stated that the recent visit of President Koroma underscored the importance that his Government was attaching to expanding Sierra Leone's ties with Israel, particularly in the economic sphere.



It will not be business as usual – Bio assures diaspora

He was passionate, confident and assuring as he addressed hundreds of Sierra Leoneans at the prestigious Royal Regency Hall in London on Saturday 9th December 2017 with a very simple message that as the next President it will not be business as usual.

For a man who has a solid track record as a disciplinarian, Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio continues to attract many voters who feel the country needs a strong and disciplined leadership.

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