29/02/2012 – Angela Pollitzer, ECHO Desk officer, Brussels recounts her visit to Lao in February 2012. She visited local projects with Dr Marie Theres Benner, ECHO’s regional health coordinator based in Bangkok. Their visits were part of a mission to monitor the prevalence and trends in diseases in communities in one of Lao’s poorest provinces.
In the far south of Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) is the province of Attapeu (total population 124,000). Past the Bolaven Plateau with its coffee plantations and close to the borders with Vietnam and Cambodia lies one of the poorest provinces in Lao. The province contains a large amount of unexploded ordnance and also experiences recurrent disease outbreaks.
Towards the end of 2011, the incidence of malaria in several districts of Attapeu province had increased, with thousands of cases confirmed and several deaths. ECHO’s partner, Health Poverty Action, in close cooperation with the national authorities and the World Health Organisation, proposed to provide emergency assistance to over 40,000 people and by doing so prevent the outbreak from turning into a major regional epidemic. ECHO provided €187,000 for this project to treat patients, train health workers and distribute mosquito nets and repellent.
Angela and Marie met a 30-year-old lady in Phouvong district of Attapeu, called Viet (see photo). She was married with two children, and described how their village four kilometres away had been cleared for a rubber plantation. The whole village had been forced to move to a new settlement in the forest, here people worked on the rubber plantation or continued to tend the paddy fields back near their old village.
Viet recounted how she had felt feverish soon after moving to the new settlement, and had walked several kilometres with her husband to the district hospital. There she had a blood test and malaria was confirmed. Viet received medicine which she took for three days. Fortunately, she recovered. However, not everyone is so lucky, especially those who work deep in the forest, staying there for several days at a time.
In this ECHO-funded project, Health Poverty Action will make contact with as many of these people as possible, providing diagnosis and treatment plus prevention via health information and special insecticide-treated nets. These nets are designed to surround the hammocks used by migrant workers who sleep in the forests. Some workers are from Attapeu, whilst others are from neighbouring provinces or from Vietnam. The project is using Mobile Health Clinics and Village House Volunteers, who are part of a government system in Lao PDR, to tackle the outbreak quickly, before the rainy season begins in May. As usual, ECHO and its partners must be fast and focused, to provide appropriate help at the right time.
By Angela Pollitzer
ECHO Desk officer, Brussels