Responsibility, repair and care in Sierra Leone's health system

Eva Vernooij*, Francess Koker, Alice Street

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Central to the workings of a hospital are the technical and bureaucratic systems that ensure the effective coordination of information and biological materials of patients across time and space. In this paper, which is based on ethnographic research in a public referral hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, conducted between October 2018 and September 2019, we adopt a patient pathway approach to examine moments of breakdown and repair in the coordination of patient care. Through the in-depth analysis of a single patient pathway through the hospital, we show how coordination work depends on frequent small acts of intervention and improvisation by multiple people across the pathway, including doctors, managers, nurses, patients and their relatives. We argue that such interventions depend on the individualisation of responsibility for ‘making the system work’ and are best conceptualised as acts of temporary repair and care for the health system itself. Examining how responsibility for the repair of the system is distributed and valued, both within the hospital and in terms of broader structures of health funding and policy, we argue, is essential to developing more sustainable systems for repair.
Original languageEnglish
Article number114260
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date22 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jul 2021


  • care
  • diagnostics
  • health system
  • patient pathways
  • repair
  • responsibility
  • Sierra Leone


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