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Challenges in reducing maternal and newborn mortality at centre of televised discussion of UNICEF flagship report

A Lao woman receives a tetanus injection .

Vientiane, 10 March 2009 – Strategies to improve standards of maternal and newborn health in one of South East Asia’s poorest countries were the focus of the national launch in Lao PDR last week of UNICEF’s 2009 State of the World’s Children.

 The discussion – hosted by the Lao Women’s Union as part of International Women’s Day celebrations – took the form of a televised discussion that brought together senior government officials, health experts, community representatives and leading international organizations.

“We know that mortality rates in particular are still an enormous issue in our country,” said Dr Somchit Akkhavong, Deputy Director of the Hygiene and Prevention Department of the Ministry of Health. However, she said the foundations for progress were being laid, including the establishment of 700 health clinics around the country, and stepped-up training for medical staff.

“It’s crucial that mothers know the importance of using these services, and that communities support and participate in the health of mothers and children,” added Dr Somchit.

Government data shows that on average, about three Lao women die every day due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, while 70 out of every 1,000 babies die in the first year of their lives. In the most isolated rural communities, up to 95% of women deliver children at home without access to healthcare facilities or skilled birth attendants.

Professor Dr Phonethep Pholensa, member of the Lao National Assembly and an expert on paediatric health, said new vision was needed to ensure rural women received the care they required. “We’ve still not tackled all of the problems at their roots,” said Professor Phonethep. “We have to mobilize resources and organizations at local levels.”


On left : discussion chairperson, the Vice President of the LWU, Mrs Bandith Pathoumvan. Holding microphone, panelist Dr Somchit Akkhavong, Deputy Director of the Hygiene and Prevention Department of the Ministry of Health.

Chaired by the Vice President of the LWU, Mrs Bandith Pathoumvan, the discussion covered a range of topics, including the work of provincial health services and Save the Children Australia in the province of Sayaboury where – according to the State of the World’s Children 2009 -- maternal mortality rates were reduced by nearly half between 1998 and 2003.

UNICEF representative Laila Ismail Khan pointed out that the report emphasized a multi-disciplinary approach. “In order to prevent maternal and neonatal deaths, we need to provide not just adequate pre- and post-natal care, but also enhanced nutrition, safe water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as a supportive social environment in which women’s rights are respected.”

A key recommendation from the report is provision of essential services through health systems that integrate home, community, outreach and facility-based care.

In Laos, the Ministry of Health together with the Centre for Maternal and Child Health is following this approach through the development of a package of maternal, newborn and child health care. This combines family planning; pregnancy, delivery and newborn care; breastfeeding and complementary feeding; immunization of children and mothers; integrated care for sick children; micronutrient supplementation; and use of insecticide-treated bed-nets and de-worming.

An edited version of the SOWC launch discussion is to be broadcast on the popular Lao Star Television channel.

For more information: 

Simon Ingram, Tel: + 856 20 551 9681
Tabongphet Phouthavong, Tel + 856 20 551 9682






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