A third of the world's child deaths occur in Asia: 3 million children die there annually. Yet newborn fatality could be cut by as much as 50% with basic health knowledge. A village in Laos shows how with community and government support it's possible to reduce mortality rates.
Until recently the village of Phonthong, in Laos' Pakkading district, had some of the country's highest child mortality rates. Most years villagers had to bury up to 15 of their children - children who died during childbirth or in the first few years of their life.
Mrs Kham lost three children: the first during pregnancy and the next two in the days following their birth.
“I just didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to maintain my health or protect the babies,” Mrs Kham says.
A subsistence farmer, Mrs Kham worked right up until the end of her pregnancy. “I would still be weeding and ploughing in the fields, carrying heavy buckets of water, and collecting firewood for the house,” Mrs. Kham said.
Knowledge gaps like this, in maternal health as well as in hygiene, sanitation and diet, rate among the chief causes of high child mortality in South Asia.
And where do you get advice when the nearest health clinic is a 3km walk through a thick jungle?
In 2005, World Vision partnered with Pakkading District Government in Phonthong to improve access to healthcare for women and children. Resources were provided to district health workers and training courses were introduced.
In Phonthong, villagers initiated a new program that saw trained volunteers caring for pregnant women in the village.
It was with this care that Mrs Kham gave birth to two daughters, now aged 6 and 9. She also got to participate in a Model Mothers course, and one of the things the program taught her was that 35% of child deaths are associated with under nutrition. Before the course, Mrs Kham had known little about nutrition. “I would let my children do anything they wanted, they could wander everywhere, eat and drink anything,” she said.
Now though, Mrs Kham's daughters receive monthly medical check-ups. “My children no longer get sick," she says. "No more diarrhoea, no more malaria, no more coughing. Today they are stronger and have more energy.”
Mrs Kham still attends the Model Mothers program for training in basic healthcare, hygiene, nutrition, pre- and post-natal care. She takes this knowledge back to her community and shares it with new mothers.
And the health of mothers and children in Phonthong has improved dramatically. Only one or two children now die annually.
By working in partnership with local communities, World Vision is able to address specific needs and see progress made.
To find out what you can do to support World Vision’s work in this area, visit our Child Health Now campaign page.