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Primary Health Care

Save the Children is working in Luang Prabang province to ensure more children and mothers survive.

Better healthcare for mothers and children in Laos

Access to basic healthcare can mean the difference between life and death for children and mothers in Laos, where survival is compromised by unsafe birthing practices, chronic malnutrition, low rates of immunisation and a lack of well-trained health workers. We’re providing remote health centres with essential medical equipment. We’re encouraging better nutrition and care practices within families. And we’re supporting health workers and midwives through training and mentoring.

Why improving healthcare in Laos is important

In Luang Prabang province, 70% of mothers give birth at home without a skilled birth attendant – placing mother and child at risk ­– and almost 30% of newborn babies are underweight. One in 12 infants don’t survive to their first birthday, and 46% of children under five are living with chronic malnutrition1.

For these children and their mothers, survival comes down to access to basic healthcare. Around 70% of the population in Luang Prabang comes from ethnic minority groups – and it’s women and children from these communities that face the biggest challenges.

Many live in extremely remote mountainous areas without access to local health services or trained midwives. Gender and socio-economic barriers can prevent mothers reaching out to mainstream healthcare when they need it. And when they do, health workers may not understand their cultural needs or speak their language.

Families in these remote communities are also less aware of what pregnant women, new babies and young children need to stay healthy and grow well.

Save the Children's Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Nutrition program

We’re building on more than 25 years of experience in Laos to change health outcomes for mothers and children.

With everything we know about providing cost-effective healthcare for mothers and children, we’re working with health workers and midwives – including those from ethnic minority groups – to reduce infant deaths, challenge chronic malnutrition, and give adequate care to mothers before, during and after they give birth.

We’re equipping remote health centres with essential medical equipment and strengthening mobile health clinics so they can reach the most isolated communities.

We’re raising awareness about how to keep pregnant mothers and babies healthy through nutrition, better sanitation and regular health checks. And we’re supporting mothers to continue breastfeeding after they’ve given birth and returned home.

A midwife can mean the difference between life and death

Photographer: David Wardell/Save the Children

It was 10pm on a Tuesday evening when Phet’s baby arrived. It was her first child. Like so many women living in Laos, she gave birth at home – and her baby was a little boy.

The initial happiness transformed into panic and fear when Phet started bleeding. Heavily. She went into shock and passed in and out of consciousness several times during the night.

“I couldn’t think straight,” says Phet’s husband, Keng, “I remember crying. I was afraid my wife would die. When she was unconscious, it seemed like she had already gone.”

Heavy bleeding after giving birth, or post-partum haemorrhaging, is the leading cause of maternal death around the world.

But Keng managed to find someone in the village to call for help. They called the health centre, and a midwife was driven out to the village in the dead of night. She saved Phet’s life.

“I was so happy when I saw the midwife arrive,” Keng remembers, “I was so happy that she would be able to help my wife. I quickly grabbed some clothes and hurried to carry my wife to the car.”

The journey to the health centre wasn’t easy. It took two hours along rough dirt roads that twist and turn and shake every bone in your body.

Phet can’t remember the journey to the health centre. But she remembers arriving. She remembers being carried on a stretcher and being looked after by two midwives. She remembers seeing her son.

“I was so happy to get to the health centre. I felt safe...It felt like a miracle,” she says.

Phet came very close to dying that night. Thankfully, trained midwives were able to save her life and look after her newborn baby.

How we know we're making a difference

We’ve been working closely with the Laos PDR Government and consulting with local communities to improve primary healthcare in different provinces across Laos since 1992. In the areas where we’ve worked, child and maternal death rates have dropped to the lowest in the country.

In 2013, with the support of the Laos PDR Government, we brought our Primary Healthcare Program to Luang Prabang province. As a result of this program, 45% of women are now giving birth with a skilled birth attendant, and more women are giving birth in health centres.

Almost 80% of children are now receiving vaccines for preventable diseases, and more than 300 health workers and midwives feel confident to deliver more comprehensive healthcare thanks to training and mentoring received through this program.

Who makes our program possible

This program is funded by the Australian Government. Through the government’s overseas aid program, Australians are providing children and families in Laos and around the world with the chance to achieve a brighter future. Find out more about how Australian Aid is changing lives here.

Save the Children also partners with the Laos PDR Government.

1Save the Children survey 2016
Banner image: David Wardell/Save the Children

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