Friday, April 4, 2014

Getting healthcare to every child

Mrs Huepa, centre, and her family
When I asked people how far it was to Kiew Kalei village, they said it wasn’t far, only 12 kilometres. But in fact the route is much more complicated and scary: the village sits on a high hill with only one unpaved dusty road zigzagging its way around steep drops. Only one car can fit through the road at a time and if the car stops, as we had to at times to let motorbikes squeeze by, you should put rocks behind the tires to stop the car rolling away.

In the end, it took close to an hour to cover only 12 kilometres.

The Kor ethic group has lived here for generations and have never thought about relocating to low land areas due to their habit of slash and burn cultivation, which only tends to be done in the mountains. There are currently 126 families with more than 150 children living in the village. It struck me how remote this village was, how despite being only 12 kilometres away from a main road it really seemed a world away. 

If one of the villagers falls sick they have to take on the treacherous road and travel two hours by motorbike, often the best form of transport for poor roads, to the nearest hospital. When it comes down to the immunizations and keeping up-to-date with vaccinations, these two hours can seem like too much of an inconvenience to many of the villagers.

Children being vaccinated by health staff

Ms Noy Siphanh, head of the mother and child section in Phongsaly Province hospital, told me about how it was her job to make sure women and children in the villages receive full immunization. Health outreach teams, supported by UNICEF, regularly visit villages like these to offer vaccinations and other health support, even during rainy seasons when the roads become much more dangerous.

I met 27 year old mother of four Mrs Heupa who told me that when she was a child she received no immunizations and was often sick. It wasn’t uncommon for children to die of many treatable illnesses and today Mrs Heupa considers herself lucky to be alive and well. 

Because of this, she brings all of her children to immunize against 11 diseases including tetanus, measles, and polio.
Mrs Poyeu, a 25 year old mother with two children, said to me that she was unsure about letting her children be vaccinated at first but when she saw her friends and neighbours with happy and healthy children, she and her husband met with the health outreach team to have their children immunized.

It was good to see how efforts by the Lao Government, with UNICEF’s support, were making impacts on the lives of children and their mothers in some of the most hard-to-reach areas.

During this visit, I accompanied representatives from the Japanese Committee for Vaccination (JCV). Mr Oishi Michiyoshi, Director General of JCV, told me how happy he was to see how many children in Lao PDR were being vaccinated, no matter where they were. He spoke of how hard the health workers worked to reach people in remote areas, and because of this JCV have decided to provide eight motorbikes to the Phongsaly outreach team for conducting immunizations. JCV has supported UNICEF’s vaccination efforts in Lao PDR with funds of more than US$130,000 per year.

Story and photos by Tabongphet Phouthavong.

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