The 2008 Sierra Leone Demographic and Health Survey (SLDHS) is the first DHS survey to be held in Sierra Leone. Teams visited 353 sample points across Sierra Leone and collected data from a nationally representative sample of 7,374 women age 15-49 and 3,280 men age 15-59. The primary purpose of the 2008 SLDHS is to provide policy-makers and planners with detailed information on Demography and health.
This is the first Demographic and Health Survey conducted in Sierra Leone and was carried out by Statistics Sierra Leone (SSL) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. The 2008 SLDHS was funded by the Sierra Leone government, UNFPA, UNDP, UNICEF, DFID, USAID, and The World Bank. WHO, WFP and UNHCR provided logistical support. ICF Macro, an ICF International Company, provided technical support for the survey through the MEASURE DHS project. MEASURE DHS is sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to assist countries worldwide in obtaining information on key population and health indicators.
The purpose of the SLDHS is to collect national- and regional-level data on fertility and contraceptive use, marriage and sexual activity, fertility preferences, breastfeeding practices, nutritional status of women and young children, childhood and adult mortality, maternal and child health, female genital cutting, awareness and behaviour regarding HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, adult health, and other issues. The survey obtained detailed information on these topics from women of reproductive age and, for certain topics, from men as well. The 2008 SLDHS was carried out from late April 2008 to late June 2008, using a nationally representative sample of 7,758 households.
The survey results are intended to assist policymakers and planners in assessing the current health and population programmes and in designing new strategies for improving reproductive health and health services in Sierra Leone.
Survey results indicate that there has been little or no decline in the total fertility rate over the past two decades, from 5.7 children per woman in 1980-85 to 5.1 children per woman for the three years preceding the 2008 SLDHS (approximately 2004-07). Fertility is lower in urban areas than in rural areas (3.8 and 5.8 children per woman, respectively). Regional variations in fertility are marked, ranging from 3.4 births per woman in the Western Region (where the capital, Freetown, is located) to almost six births per woman in the Northern and Eastern regions. Women with no education give birth to almost twice as many children as women who have been to secondary school (5.8 births, compared with 3.1 births). Fertility is also closely associated with household wealth, ranging from 3.2 births among women in the highest wealth quintile to 6.3 births among women in the lowest wealth quintile, a difference of more than three births. Research has demonstrated that children born too close to a previous birth are at increased risk of dying. In Sierra Leone, only 18 percent of births occur within 24 months of a previous birth. The interval between births is relatively long; the median interval is 36 months.
The vast majority of Sierra Leonean women and men know of at least one method of contraception. Contraceptive pills and injectables are known to about 60 percent of currently married women and 49 percent of married men. Male condoms are known to 58 percent of married women and 80 percent of men. A higher proportion of respondents reported knowing a modern method of family planning than a traditional method.
About one in five (21 percent) currently married women has used a contraceptive method at some time-19 percent have used a modern method and 6 percent have used a traditional method. However, only about one in twelve currently married women (8 percent) is currently using a contraceptive method. Modern methods account for almost all contraceptive use, with 7 percent of married women reporting use of a modern method, compared with only 1 percent using a traditional method. Injectables and the pill are the most widely used methods (3 and 2 percent of married women, respectively), followed by LAM and male condoms (less than 1 percent each).
Examination of levels of infant and child mortality is essential for assessing population and health policies and programmes. Infant and child mortality rates are also used as indices reflecting levels of poverty and deprivation in a population. The 2008 survey data show that over the past 15 years, infant and under-five mortality have decreased by 26 percent. Still, one in seven Sierra Leonean children dies before reaching age five. For the most recent five-year period before the survey (approximately calendar years 2003 to 2008), the infant mortality rate was 89 deaths per 1,000 live births and the under-five mortality rate was 140 deaths per 1,000 live births. The neonatal mortality rate was 36 deaths per 1,000 live births and the post-neonatal mortality rate was 53 deaths per 1,000 live births. The child mortality rate was 56 deaths per 1,000 children surviving to age one year.
Mortality rates at all ages of childhood show a strong relationship with the length of the preceding birth interval. Under-five mortality is three times higher among children born less than two years after a preceding sibling (252 deaths per 1,000 births) than among children born four or more years after a previous child (deaths 81 per 1,000 births).
Almost nine in ten mothers (87 percent) in Sierra Leone receive antenatal care from a health professional (doctor, nurse, midwife, or MCH aid). Only 5 percent of mothers receive antenatal care from a traditional midwife or a community health worker; 7 percent of mothers do not receive any antenatal care.
In Sierra Leone, over half of mothers have four or more antenatal care (ANC) visits, about 20 percent have one to three ANC visits, and only 7 percent have no antenatal care at all. The survey shows that not all women in Sierra Leone receive antenatal care services early in pregnancy. Only 30 percent of mothers obtain antenatal care in the first three months of pregnancy, 41 percent make their first visit in the fourth or fifth month, and 17 percent in have their first visit in the sixth or seventh month. Only 1 percent of women have their first ANC visit in their eighth month of pregnancy or later.
BREASTFEEDING AND NUTRITION
Poor nutritional status is one of the most important health and welfare problems facing Sierra Leone today and particularly afflicts women and children. The data show that 36 percent of children under five are stunted (too short for their age) and 10 percent of children under five are wasted (too thin for their height). Overall, 21 percent of children are underweight, which may reflect stunting, wasting, or both. For women, at the national level 11 percent of women are considered to be thin (body mass index <18.5); however, only 4 percent of women are considered severely thin. At the other end of a spectrum, 20 percent of women age 15-49 are considered to be overweight (body mass index 25.025.9) and 9 percent are considered obese (body mass index =30.0).
The HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of the most serious health concerns in the world today because of its high case-fatality rate and the lack of a cure. Awareness of AIDS is relatively high among Sierra Leonean adults age 15-49, with 69 percent of women and 83 percent of men saying that they have heard about AIDS. Nevertheless, only 14 percent of women and 25 percent of men are classified as having 'comprehensive knowledge' about AIDS, i.e., knowing that consistent use of condoms during sexual intercourse and having just one faithful, HIV-negative partner can reduce the chances of getting HIV/AIDS, knowing that a healthy-looking person can have HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), and knowing that HIV cannot be transmitted by sharing food/utensils with someone who has HIV/AIDS, or by mosquito bites.
Such a low level of knowledge about HIV/AIDS implies that a concerted effort is needed to address misconceptions about the transmission of HIV in Sierra Leone. Comprehensive knowledge is substantially lower among respondents with no education and those who live in the poorest households. Programmes could be targeted to populations in rural areas, and especially women in the Northern and Southern regions and men in the Eastern Region, where comprehensive knowledge is lowest. A composite indicator on stigma towards people who are HIV positive shows that only 5 percent of women and 15 percent of men age 15-49 expressed accepting attitudes towards persons living with HIV/AIDS.
The 2008 SLDHS collected data on the practice of female circumcision (or female genital cutting) in Sierra Leone. Awareness of the practice is universally high. Almost all (99 percent) of Sierra Leonean women and 96 percent of men age 15-49 have heard of the practice. The prevalence of female circumcision is high (91 percent). Most women (82 percent) reported that the cutting involves the removal of flesh. The most radical procedure, infibulation-when vagina is sewn closed during the circumcision-is reported by only 3 percent of women. The survey results indicate that almost all of the women were circumcised by traditional practitioners (95 percent); only a small proportion of circumcisions were performed by a trained health professional (0.3 percent).
Among Sierra Leonean adults age 15-49 who have heard of female circumcision, more men than women oppose the practice (41 and 26 percent, respectively), which is similar to patterns in other West African countries.