No mountain too high: ending polio in Laos
For 15 years Daeng Xayaseng has been travelling through rugged, undulating countryside by motorbike and by foot to deliver vaccines to children in some of the most remote villages in Laos.
It’s hard work but she is determined: “We have a target of children to reach and we’ll achieve that no matter how long it takes,” she says. “We’ll keep working until we reach every child.”
Today her team visits Nampoung village, 4 hours north of the capital of Laos, to deliver polio vaccines.
In 2015 a vaccine-derived polio virus was contracted by 11 children and adults, killing 2. Remote, poor and often ethnic communities such as those in this Hmong village are among the most vulnerable to the spread of disease and viruses. When dangerous viral outbreaks occur, it’s important health teams come to those most in need of health services.
“Service times depends on the season,” says Daeng. “It’s rice season right now. The villagers are all farmers so everyone will be working in the fields, a long way from their homes. That’s why our services depend on what the community asks; if they say 3pm, we come at that time. If they say night time, we’ll be there.”
The team first sets up in the centre of the village. In the local Hmong language the village chiefs calls on parents to bring their children to be immunized through booming loudspeakers. Soon, parents arrive with small children in slings on their backs, and the larger children following quickly behind.
“For 15 years I’ve been working on campaigns like this,” she says. “Today we’re here with our outreach team to vaccinate children against polio. We’ll also go house to house to make sure no child misses out on being vaccinated.”
Once the team finishes at the vaccination point, they then go mobile and walk house to house to find children who didn’t come for immunization.
“We don’t want there to be another outbreak of polio so we have to reach everyone,” says Daeng. “In order to do that, immunizing every child in remote communities like this is a priority to ensure everyone is protected.”
UNICEF, with WHO, is supporting the Lao Government to reach nearly half a million children under five with potentially life-saving vaccines. More than 7,200 volunteers and 1,400 health workers like Daeng and her team have been mobilised to deliver the oral polio vaccine as well as other vaccinations such as measles-rubella.
After several hours, the work is complete “I’m very happy and proud to do this job,” says Daeng once the team has packed up. “I’m proud to do this job to serve the community and help in any way I can.”