Better Health For A Brighter Future
“Before the dispensary was set up, getting health treatment was far from easy. When someone was sick, we had to go to the district hospital. But that was far away, on a poor road, so sometimes we just couldn’t make it”. Ms Nang, 24, Ban Nongbouakham.
Nang has 10-month-old twins, a boy and a girl. Every month, like the other mothers in Nongbouakham village, in Khammouane Province of Laos, Nang takes her children to special sessions at the village health centre where they are weighed, measured, vaccinated and given additional treatment if needed. Nang and the other mothers are also checked to ensure they are up to date with vaccinations and coping well with pregnancy or its after-effects. These Mother and Child Health (MCH) Clinics are conducted by the district health service each month in every village on the Nakai Plateau. As in other districts of Laos where the MCH service is available, the system has had profoundly positive effects on the well being of mothers, children, and in turn the general population.
The NTPC Public Health Program began helping health services of four Khammouane districts to set up the MCH service in 2006. Training and medical equipment were supplied, backed up by renovation of district hospitals and community health centres. In Nakai, where 17 villages were relocated as part of the Nam Theun 2 Multi-Purpose Project, NTPC also provided water and sanitation infrastructure, roads, ambulances and built new health centres.
Since then, the health of villagers has measurably improved. The proportion of the Nakai population suffering from roundworm infestation had dropped from around 68% before resettlement to just over 7%. Today all children on the Nakai Plateau are vaccinated and tetanus has disappeared from the area. Child nutrition and growth averages are improving, while childhood mortality rates have decreased by over 50%. Women now have access to contraception and are generally choosing to have fewer children, whom they are better able to provide for.
Ms Bounthom, 27, is another mother of two who appreciates the innovations. “I’m so happy to take my kids to the MCH clinic every month –it makes a big difference. In the past, we only had traditional remedies for sickness, but this clinic offers surgery, medicine, vaccination, and also gives health education and sanitation advice. This is all new and we are much better off than before”.
Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that the MCH clinics are run by district medical staff, with little input from NTPC now required. This shows that local services are now being run by local people and that the systems put in place have a good chance of being sustainable well into the future. In this case, the health of people in Khammouane should be in safe hands for a long time to come.