Good for her, good for our baby

Ante-natal and post-natal services proving beneficial to mothers and children in Lao PDR.

Mother receives prenatal care
UNICEF Laos/2019/BVerweij
18 February 2020

Daopensouk is five-months pregnant with her second baby. Along with their older son, Daopensouk and her husband Khambon leave their village very early to be in time for their ante-natal care appointment at Kaisone district hospital.

“I want to make sure my wife feels comfortable before an appointment. Our village is far from the health centre and I do not want her to make that commute alone,” Khambon says.

Khambon is one of a growing number of husbands who understand the risks and needs of their pregnant wives. It used to be that men were largely unaware of these issues, but now many fathers to be are helping to make sure that their babies are being cared for as well as possible before birth.

“I’m really careful she doesn’t do anything strenuous,” says Khambon. “I’ll carry the water and anything heavy.”

The couple’s midwife, Manivanh Thebsukmeuang has witnessed significant improvements in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH) during her 30-year career.

More women these days are opting for medical services at the health centres, which results in healthier mothers and a lower mortality rate. The benefit is not just limited to the mothers, but also the children of those who receive ante- and post-natal services.

Midwife in Kaisone district hospital
UNICEF Laos/2019/BVerweij
Ms. Manivanh Thebsukmeuang, midwife at Kaison district hospital.

Since 2011, the Government of Lao PDR has made great strides in improving RMNCAH. Skilled attendance at birth increased from 41.5 per cent in 2011 to 64.4 per cent in 2017. To further advance progress, the Ministry of Health developed an essential health services package to be delivered at each level of the health system.

Thebsukmeung, along with other midwives, has received training and new equipment. “This improves the quality of services especially the capacity to provide ante- and post-natal care,” she adds.

This type of support is a key component of the Luxembourg-funded UN Joint Programme on RMNCAH. The programme brings UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO together to support the Ministry of Health in making sure that health services leave no one behind. Support focuses on improving the capacity of health workers to provide ante- and post-natal care and promote the early initiation of breastfeeding.

Happy family
UNICEF Laos/2019/BVerweij
Ms. Daopensouk (24) accompanied by her husband and son, receives ante-natal care at Kaison district hospital, Savannakhet, Lao PDR.

Thebsukmeuang believes there is still room for improvement though. Despite the progress made, many women and children, particularly from lower socio-economic groups and hard to reach areas, are still unable to access quality essential health services. The disparity is all too clear from the 2017 Lao Social Indicator Survey which shows that 9 out of 10 women living in urban areas give birth at a health facility while in rural areas, this drops to just four in 10.

Despite these discrepancies, more and more women such as Daopensouk who live in rural areas are becoming aware of the medical facilities available to them, while awareness is spreading further than just to expectant mothers.

“My mother tells me that women used to deliver babies with the help of traditional birth attendants, who weren’t trained,” says Daopensouk. “But now nearly all the pregnant women in my village give birth at a hospital.”

Daopensouk’s husband Khambon also understands much more about his wife’s nutritional needs. “Food is important. I cook and make sure she eats food like meat, vegetables and fruit. If she wants to eat something special, I will go to the market and help prepare it. Even if it is a bit expensive! A good diet is good for her and for our baby.”