The majority of the Lao population (70% of 6.5 million people) live in rural areas where there is limited access to public services. While access to health services is improving every year, the number of midwives in rural areas is still low, particularly in Bokeo.
Plan International is working closely with the Ministry of Public Health to reduce this gap by supporting rural, ethnic girls to study midwifery. With trained, local people working in rural health centres, it is hoped that more people will be encouraged to visit the centres where they can access health services with friendly and professional staff.
It is challenging to convince ethnic people to visit health centres for antenatal care and/or delivery of their babies. Often they don’t speak Lao language which increases communication and service gaps between villagers and health staff. In Bokeo, there are several ethnic groups who have their own spoken languages and rarely communicate in Lao.
Midwives who speak local ethnic languages and understand traditional practices and beliefs are essential for quality health care for mothers and their babies.
“We are supporting young, enthusiasitic midwifery students in their studies, and with professional supportive supervision after their graduation when they are working in rural and remote district health centres. As a former midwife, I know how important it is to be able to communicate well with women and their families, as well as have up to date knowledge and experience than ensures safe care,” said Mona Girgis, Plan International Laos Country Director.
"Our partnership with the Ministry of Health and our work with the health centres will help decrease maternal and child mortality, which, while improving, remains high in Laos", added Ms. Girgis.
The fertility rate in rural Bokeo Province is about 3.6 children for each woman according to the Lao Social Indicator Survey. Unfortunately, many of these women will give birth before the age of 18. In the rural, northern provinces of Laos, for every 1,000 girls aged between 15 and 19 years, there are 120 births. The 0-5 year old child mortality rate is also high in Bokeo Province, at 110 per 1,000 children.
“Many people in my village still don’t go to health centre for antenatal care and/or delivery of babies, unless they face difficulties delivering the baby at home”, said Keophet, a Plan International scholarship graduate from Khmu community in Bokeo Province. "I hope I will be able to encourage pregnant women to come to use my services, and help save the lives of at risk mothers and babies."
“I am extremely excited to go back home and start helping patients, especially women and girls”, said Ea Chanvixaithor, a Plan International scholarship graduate from a Hmong community in Bokeo Province. “The knowledge and skills I learnt at school, and practised at the hospital will finally be used to save lives in Bokeo”.