A Look Inside Our Future Maternal Health Center In Sierra Leone

Interactive map explores patient-centered, innovative design

Posted on Dec 21, 2020

An aerial view of the future Maternal Center of Excellence in Sierra Leone.
An aerial view of the future Maternal Center of Excellence in Sierra Leone. Photo courtesy of Build Health International.

In 2017, facing Sierra Leone’s long-standing maternal health crisis, Partners In Health leaders sat in a conference room in Kono Districtstatistically one of the most dangerous places to give birth in the worldand dreamed big:

What if, instead of making small, gradual improvements to PIH-supported Koidu Government Hospital’s maternity ward, we built a state-of-the-art, dedicated maternal center? What if we didn’t just knock down a wall every few years to add some more beds, but opened a teaching hospital that could accommodate every woman and child in need and train new generations of clinicians?

In the years since, what began as a simple ideathat all women deserve access to dignified, world-class health carehas turned into a plan for an unprecedented maternal health facility in a country where women face a 1 in 20 lifetime risk of dying prematurely during pregnancy or childbirth. 

In response to this need and in partnership with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health, PIH will build the Maternal Center of Excellence (MCOE) in Kono District. Construction will begin in early 2021, with services to begin in 2023, in partnership with architectural firms Build Health International and The Living.

The MCOE aims to strengthen maternal health in Sierra Leoneand beyond. The center will be located in Koidu Government Hospital—the only hospital in rural Kono District and an important health care provider in the regionand will drastically expand the hospital’s maternal health services and capacity, allowing more women and families to access lifesaving care. 

From concept to architectural rendering, the MCOE has always represented more than a buildingit’s a testament to women’s rights as human rights, and an investment in a future that is sustainable and equitable. The MCOE builds sustainability into the heart of its design, from locally sourced bamboo to energy-efficient lighting and cooling systems. And its design elements tell the story of Sierra Leone’s past, present, and future, incorporating stones from Kono’s long-exploited diamond mine and timber sourced from a sustainably-planted forest in Sierra Leone.

This interactive map offers an inside look at the MCOE’s key clinical features and design elements, offering a glimpse of a center that represents how far the country has comeand how much farther it can push the limits to forge a new path for mothers, children, and families worldwide.

120-bed Maternity Ward

The maternity ward, which currently has 40 beds, will expand to 120, allowing staff to care for more women.


Courtyards will provide open, dignified spaces for patients and their families to visit and relax.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

A NICU will heighten the level of care for infants born prematurely, helping the hospital’s youngest patients thrive.

Surgical Suites

The maternity ward will expand from one surgical suite to three, allowing more women to receive critical operations.

Outpatient Services

The outpatient department will serve a growing number of patients with expanded services.

Diamond Mine Stones

The facade will include stones sourced from Kono’s diamond mine--the largest in West Africa--reclaiming symbols of destruction, extraction, and exploitation.

Simulation Labs

Simulation labs will offer space and resources to train new generations of equity-minded, specialized clinicians.

Design Elements:

1. 120-Bed Maternity Ward:

As trust in health care and Koidu Government Hospital has grown in communities across Kono District and Sierra Leone, clinicians in the hospital’s current maternity ward have rapidly run out of adequate space for a growing number of patients.The MCOE will expand the maternity ward from 40 beds to 120. With triple the bed count, nurses and midwives will be able to provide every patient the time she needsand deservesto heal.

2. Courtyards:

The center’s courtyards will provide green, open spaces for patients and their families to socialize and relaxhelping ensure the MCOE provides not only excellent health care, but also a sense of comfort, dignity, and peace.

3. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU):

The MCOE will be home to Kono’s first NICU, expanding on the hospital’s recently opened Special Care Baby Unit to provide a higher level of care for infants born prematurely or with other complications. The NICU will be equipped with CPAP machines, a neonatologist, and ventilation, helping the hospital’s youngest at-risk patients thrive. 

4. Surgical Suites:

The MCOE will expand the hospital’s maternity ward from one surgical suite to two main theaters and one smaller theater, paving the way for more women to receive vital operations. These suites will be pressurized to prevent and control infections, protecting women and neonates during cesarean sections and other complex surgeries.

5. Outpatient Services:

As more patients have arrived for care at the hospital over recent years, a dedicated space for those in need of outpatient services has become necessaryalong with a wider variety of these services. The new outpatient department will offer care that includes family planning, routine gynecology, childhood vaccinations, mental health counseling, and sexual- and gender-based violence care.  

6. Diamond Mine Stones:

The MCOE’s facade will include stones sourced from Kono’s diamond minethe largest in West Africa and long a site of injustice and extraction, first exploited by a British diamond company and then by rebel groups during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war. Currently, foreign mining companies control this natural resourcewith no wealth returned to Kono itself. Koidu Government Hospital sits next to a man-made mountain of stones extracted during the mining process. These stones will be incorporated into the facade of a center that seeks to support women and families as Sierra Leone moves toward a more just, equitable future.

7. Simulation Labs:

Physicians in Sierra Leone currently cannot specializemeaning those who dream of becoming OB/GYNS, pediatricians, neonatologists, or other highly trained clinicians must go abroad to complete their medical education. The MCOE’s simulation labs will level the playing field in Sierra Leone and West Africa by providing a space to prepare the next generation of doctors, nurses, and midwives in labor and delivery emergencies, neonatal care, and other advanced procedures that will improve maternal and child health.

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