Fifty years after leaving Sierra Leone in far-west Africa, Normanhurst paediatrician Dr Nuli Lemoh has helped set up a children’s hospital that is reversing infant mortality rates and providing hope for a community that has suffered for so long.
The native of Bo has been working on the Bo Children’s Hospital project since 2008, with help from Turramurra Rotary Club. Dr Lemoh said the project, in its fifth year, has saved thousands of lives. “The thing about Sierra Leone is that children are dying from the most basic illnesses. They are underweight and anaemic and when they sick they don’t have the basic medicines we have,” he said.
In one year, 2000 children who otherwise might have died from preventable illnesses were saved.
Those statistics are a significant turnaround for infant mortality rates, which previously saw 194 children die out of every 1000 children born.
Before establishing the 20-bed hospital in Bo, Dr Lemoh said he had to overcome a number of obstacles, including the wishes of his parents and the outbreak of civil war in Sierra Leone. “My parents were both illiterate and my father didn’t want me to go to school but I pushed hard and eventually was allowed to go,” he said. “I wanted to study medicine and had to win scholarships to do so. Eventually I was invited to Sydney to study at university.”
He said he attempted to return to Sierra Leone with his family, including his Australian wife and children, but it was too dangerous to stay. He worked as a paediatrician in Bo for nine years before the civil war broke out. “The war in the 1980s was too dangerous. People were attacking and closing down schools so we made the decision to return to Australia, where we have stayed.
From afar, Dr Lemoh has made it his mission to continue to help his people. “It was my dream and I’m so lucky to have had people help me along the way to achieve it.”