Child injury prevention in Viet Nam
By Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong
CAN THO, Viet Nam, 13 May 2011 – Economic and social progress in Viet Nam has brought change to people’s lives in Truong Lac commune in the province of Can Tho. Roads are now busy with trucks, cars and motorbikes. As a result, children are facing increasing risks.
Injuries to children are a growing public health concern in Viet Nam. More than 7,000 children and young people under the age of 19 died from preventable injuries in 2008, according to the Viet Nam Ministry of Health. That’s 38 per cent of total deaths for that age group.
Le Thi Cam Hong and her family live in a simple house by the side of the road in Truong Lac. She looks after her grandsons, Hao, 4, and Hon, 2, while their parents work in the fields.
It is not an easy job. “If they run out of the house, they will go directly on to the road through the front door, or to the river at the back,” says Ms. Hong. “I can never guarantee that I can keep my eyes on them all the time and lack of attention for even one second would put them at real risk of an accident.”
Thankfully, looking after them is less risky and worrying than it once was. In 2003, Can Tho was one of six provinces where UNICEF piloted best practices for child-safe homes, schools and communities.
Most of the houses in Truong Lac commune have since received child safety upgrades. Ms. Hong first heard about child-safe homes four years ago when commune volunteer Mr. Vien visited. He pointed out risks around their house. He also showed them changes they could make, with the help of an easy-to-understand booklet.
They modified their home by putting up bamboo fences at the front and rear of the compound. Another fence in front of the cooking area keeps the boys away from fire, hot water and knives. Electric sockets, medicine and the thermos were also moved out of their reach.
“It was quite easy and not costly. Most of those things we could do ourselves,” says Ms. Hong. The two little boys love to race with their bicycles inside the fence parameters. They understand the importance of staying close to home. “It’s okay to bike inside the house, we have enough space here,” says Hao. “I might be hit by the cars if I go out there on the road.”
Lessons on safety
Not far from Ms. Hong’s home is the newly-built family home of Nguyen Thi Dut. “Everyone around here reminded us about safety for children when we were building our house,” says Ms. Dut. “Even before we had a chance to build the fence, many neighbours immediately asked if we were going to have one.”
Nhan Pham Hoang Hiep, a ninth grader at local Ngo Quyen Junior Secondary School, is a member of the ‘Pioneer Communication Team’. This child-safety team gives talks at school ceremonies and class meetings, and holds group discussions and contests on preventing child injuries.
Hiep also looks for related news in local media and on the internet to discuss with friends. “They are all aware of the risks but some of them underestimate the consequences,” he says. “I think that real-life stories and images from the media are more convincing for them.”
Ngo Quyen School has been recognized as a child-safe school. As well as improvements to the building, the school has been implementing a plan for injury prevention, which includes teacher training, integration of child injury prevention into lessons, and other communications and monitoring activities.
“Students are strongly influenced by their peers. Hiep and his ‘Pioneer Communication Team’ do a great job in encouraging students to adopt better safety behaviours,” says School Principal Tran Van Duong.
Expanding the programme
One of the key aspects of continued success is a safety checklist, which was developed during the pilot programme with the participation of members of the commune. Homes, schools and communities that meet the requirements are declared child safe.
“The checklist is very useful. I use it to check the safety situation of all the families that I visit. I also give the materials to the families so they can do the checking themselves,” says Mr. Vien.
UNICEF piloted child injury prevention models in 12 communes in the province of Can Tho in 2008. Since then, the provincial Department of Health has taken on and maintained the programme.
“This shows that the models are effective,” says UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam Lotta Sylwander. “We hope that the initiative will be replicated further to other provinces of Viet Nam, so more children will be able to grow up and develop in an injury-free environment.”