“Impressive progress” on health challenges, but much work remains, says Health Minister on Bokeo tour
6 November 2023, Vientiane, Lao PDR – Today, Minister of Health H.E. Dr Bounfeng Phoummalaysith concluded a five-day visit to provincial and district hospitals to assess the progress and challenges in Bokeo Province, alongside Luxembourg Chargé d’Affaires Thomas Lammar, and representatives from UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO.
During the 1 to 5 November trip, the Minister reviewed the quality of medical services – for local communities and migrant workers – across maternal and child health, infectious disease control, and sexual and reproductive health. Additional facilities were visited in Xayabuli Province, looking at health care quality and human resources.
“Across Bokeo Province, we saw impressive progress on a range of challenges,” said the Minister. “Particularly heartening were the advances in care for mothers, children and young people, reflecting nationwide improvements in this area.”
“These successes reflect the hard work and commitment over many years of healthcare staff, provincial officials, communities, in partnership with development partners, and we thank them for their support. Of course, we also see the work that remains – particularly in terms of accessibility and quality of services.”
A key focus of the trip was exploring progress across Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) under the United Nations Joint Programme (UNJP) – a Grand Duchy of Luxembourg-funded initiative involving UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, operating in Lao PDR since 2011, with a budget of more than Euro 25,000,000 provided.
“Bokeo Province, like many others, has achieved substantial gains in services for mothers, children and adolescents, reflected in declining loss of life – these improvements are evident in communities and healthcare facilities – but the job is not yet done,” said Chargé d’Affaires Lammar.
“Our support in Lao PDR aims to see every mother have a healthy birth assisted by skilled birth attendants, and every child be born and stay healthy. The joint efforts by the Ministry of Health, healthcare workers and UN partners are taking important steps towards that vision; we are delighted to see the power of collaboration between partners increasing maternal, child and sexual and reproductive health outcomes.”
Advancements were also reflected in a recent assessment of the province, finding the majority of women received sufficient pre-birth medical checkups and care, and were attended by skilled birth attendants – but with lower coverage among lower-income groups.
Highlighting the importance of trust and quality of care for safer pregnancy and birth, Namou, a new mother living more than two-hours drive from Tonpheung District Hospital, Bokeo, said: “I came to give birth at this district hospital because it was the first child, and I was worried that problems could happen during the delivery and my husband was away as working in the field."
“We are thrilled to see the impact of health investment in Bokeo Province,” said WHO Representative Dr Ying Ru Lo, “particularly WHO-provided support for healthcare workers to assist pregnant women – improving skills for early essential newborn care, emergency assistance during pregnancy, delivery and post-delivery, and service quality – along with more broad community engagement and local-governance strengthening throughout the province.”
“These interventions save lives, and demonstrate that smart investment coupled with a committed health sector and workforce, can transform the lives of families and communities. Our thanks go to the Ministry of Health and Grand Duchy of Luxembourg for their efforts. At the same time, we must remember that the gaps remaining cannot be addressed without domestic investment in healthcare, to ensure it meets the need of a growing population – this means investing in new infrastructure, recruiting more healthcare workers, and expanding access to care.”
“Reducing maternal deaths, morbidity and the unmet need for family planning (FP) are among the key priorities of our work, through ensuring the availability of antenatal care, FP commodities and well-trained and well-regulated midwives and timely referrals of childbirth complication,” said UNFPA Representative Lao PDR, Dr Bakhtyor Kadirov. “This visit has shown that we need to focus on supply chain work to reduce stock out of essential lifesaving medicines, we need to take services out to more women and girls through targeted outreach, we need to build in innovation like telehealth that was started during COVID-19, and invest in trainings for both health care providers and health managers.”
“Through the combined efforts of the Joint Programme, UNICEF is proud to contribute to the tangible improvements in Bokeo Province and across Lao PDR,” said Arturo Romboli, Deputy Representative of UNICEF in Lao PDR. “With a focus on the integrated management of newborn and childhood illnesses and leveraging crucial data from recent surveys, we are helping to shape a brighter future for children and mothers alike. Our commitment is unwavering, and we aim to continue amplifying the impact through our collaborative efforts and field monitoring, ensuring that every child and mother in Lao PDR has access to quality healthcare.
The Ministry plans to review the observations from the visit and explore ways to address needs and gaps. All three UN agencies; UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO reiterated their commitment to continue supporting health systems strengthening and better access to quality healthcare in Lao PDR.
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.