Observe and Listen
A Health Worker’s Quest to Help Her Community
Inspired by the uniform of a health worker she saw during her teenage years, Phanlana Sengphet was determined to take up the same profession to help her community. Little did she know that years later she would get to wear the same uniform.
After leaving school, Phanlana graduated with a nursing degree from the University of Health Science in Champasak province, Lao PDR. Through years of service, Phanlana has now become the Deputy Director of the La-bong-nam Health Center in Taoy District, of Saravanh province, Lao PDR, and is helping to look after the health of around 3,400 people from throughout 13 villages.
Despite this huge responsibility entrusted upon her, Phanlana is proud of her role in the community.
“On a normal day I take care of around 10 patients, maybe 20 patients on a busy day. I pretty much do every task, from health screening, treatment, immunization, statistics, health education to delivering health services to the community,” explained Phanlana.
In discussing the highlights of her career, Phanlana recounts her visit to a rural village once where healthcare access was limited.
“The commute was very challenging. I had to cross a big river to reach the village. Upon arrival, I met a mother who just recently gave birth. Her child was only around three months old and I noticed that he was very thin.”
After talking to the mother, Phanlana found out that the baby had difficulty drinking breastmilk and his mother was unsure of the proper way to breastfeed her baby. Seeing this situation, Phanlana helped explain to the mother the proper method of breastfeeding and also gave advice about nutritious food and vaccination for the baby.
The seed that Phanlana planted on that day through her conversation with the mother eventually bore fruit and Phanlana had the chance to witness the results when she revisited the village a month later. Phanlana discovered that the mother had stopped purchasing powdered milk for her child and now exclusively breastfeeds her child. The child seemed healthier.
“I am glad that my conversation with the mother that day helped save the life of her child,” said Phanlana. However, Phanlana is still worried that there are still many mothers who do not have access to reliable information about vaccination or nutrition.
To support health workers like Phanlana, UNICEF Lao PDR and the Center for Health Statistics and Information of the Ministry of Health, through the support of USAID, conducted the Quarterly Community Meeting to review the implementation of Risk Communication and Community Engagement activities in 20 low-performing districts. The meeting took place In August 2023 and provided opportunity for all participants to sharpen their communication skills so they can better promote vaccination in their community.
Effective communication, including listening, can make a difference in people’s lives. I want our health campaigns to be livelier and involve the community more. If we can do this, I believe that health education and promotion will greatly benefit communities all across Lao PDR.
Additionally, partners like the Lao Front for National Development and Lao Women’s Union, alongside officials from other health centers, district health offices and provincial health departments also attended meeting.
This initial Quarterly Community Meeting highlighted both technical knowledge and hands-on experience sharing on vaccination and communication among different teams and levels from health education, immunization, outbreak response and community engagement. To strengthen this mechanism, UNICEF Lao PDR and partners will continue to work together using this approach at the district, health center and community levels, making sure that community insights are heard and addressed while promoting sustained positive health outcomes.