In Meung District, Laos, there are 5 health centres and 1 district hospital for around 15,000 people. People in Sengda’s community have to travel by motorcycle to the nearest health centre – 6km from her village – on hilly, dirt roads that are not easy to pass, especially for pregnant women.
Sengda, a 24 year-old mother of 3, is among a number of women in her community who didn’t have antenatal care at a health centre. Some gave birth at home without any assistance from a midwife. “In the first 3 months of pregnancy with my third child, I never visited a health centre, because none of the women in my village did so,” said Sengda.
Discussions with communities
Sengda was encouraged to visit a health centre 4 months into her third pregnancy by her relatives and fellow community members as a result of a Plan International Laos project that involves community midwives holding discussions with local people on the health of pregnant women and young children. As part of the project, midwives are trained to hold these discussions in an engaging manner to increase the enthusiasm of community members.
Meeting with health staff at Xiengdao Health Centre changed Sengda’s perspective. They discussed the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life and how she should take care of herself and her child from the beginning of pregnancy until the child becomes 2. Sengda says, “Not only can I support my child’s physical growth and mental development but I also got vaccinations and vitamins that are necessary for pregnant woman.
"Health staff advised us not to work too hard, what kind of food to eat. They also advised us to talk to our unborn children. It is good information."
Supporting children's healthy development
Daovone, a midwife at Xiengdao Health Centre, who received scholarship from Plan International to study at the National Midwifery School, is now responsible for caring for the pregnant women in the area including Sengda’s village. She says, “I noted that mothers looked at me strangely when asking them to talk to or sing a song for their unborn child. After spending time with them and showing pictures of different stages that child goes through inside the mother most of them said that they would do it at home.”
Sengda is now committed to convincing her friends to visit health centre when they are pregnant. "The first 1,000 days of a child's life is very important for their physical and mental development, I am going to spread this word around to my friends so that we all can have healthy and smart children," she says.
Xiengdao Health Centre provides health services for more than 1,000 adults, including pregnant women, and around 300 children each year.