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True friend concept connects communities with health services

Plan International Laos is piloting a new 'True Friend' approach to encourage rural communities to access health services in Bokeo Province.

Health staff and skilled birth attendants are cleaning a health center to make it more comfortable and friendlier for villagers who come for health services.
Health staff cleaning a health centre.

In rural areas of Laos, there are barriers that prevent communities from accessing health services. These include geography, social norms and the language barrier.

Since 2012, Plan International Laos has been playing an important and role to remove these barriers by providing midwifery scholarships to ethnic high-school-graduate girls and providing medical equipment to health centers to ensure they meet requirements.

Barriers to accessing health care in Laos are reducing every day as roads are improved by the government and more health centers are constructed. However, social norms still exist that keep villagers away from health services. In 2015, Plan International Laos piloted the 'True Friend' concept, which is designed to improve health center services as well as the skills of staff in the northern Laos.

“These skills are not about medical treatment or technical skills, but skills to properly manage health centers, including filing documents, cleaning, installing medical instruments, providing health advice with gentle, friendly and respectful manners,” said Dr Ketsadasak Kiettisak, Plan International Laos’s Health Advisor. “I think making villagers feel like talking with their friends rather than health staff will encourage villagers to visit health center more when they are not well”.

In November 2016, Plan International Laos, with technical support from Plan International Sri Lanka, expanded the ‘True Friend’ concept to Saravane Province.

Dr. Kalana Peiris, Health Advisor to Plan International Sri Lanka, leads health staff and midwifery students to improve environment and condition of health centre to make it much friendlier place for villagers to come for health services
Health staff discuss how to make their health centre more appealing to rural communities.

Participants have learned how to meet, talk and be friendly with villagers, especially when talking about children's health.

“To make our meeting with villagers more interactive rather than demonstrational, we make our discussions more interesting and provide more choices to build trust and respectfulness between villagers and health staff,” said Ms.La, a Plan International-funded midwifery student.

“I believe that no one will come to the strangers (health staff) unless we become their friends bit by bit”, said Ms. Bouavanh, an employee of the Provincial Mother and Child Department of Saravane Province.

Learn more about our work to provide children with a healthy start in life in Laos