Helping young families help themselves during COVID-19
Support for hygiene, healthcare and decent work for young families in remote areas
As Thailand grapples with the third and worst wave of COVID-19, ensuring access to healthcare, decent work and hygiene and essential supplies in remote communities is harder than ever before. But UNICEF and partners are finding ways to reach the most vulnerable families during the toughest of times.
The Thailand Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey by the National Statistical Office and UNICEF found that, although the national adolescent birth rate decreased from 60 to 23 births per 1,000 women in 2012-2019, high rates persist among adolescents living in remote areas. Early childbearing carries extra health risks to both the mother and the baby, and young mothers often face stigma, rejection or violence by partners, parents and peers and must halt their education.
Since June 2020, UNICEF has been supporting the Adolescent Pregnancy Programme run by Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand (PPAT) to build a network of 60 health volunteers as well as 160 peer educators, NGOs, businesses and civil society groups to reach adolescents and teenage mothers in remote areas such as Mae Ai and Chiang Dao districts, where adolescent birth rates are among the highest in Chiang Mai Province at more than 50 births per 1,000 women.
“I encourage friends who are pregnant to go for check-ups and prenatal testing,” said Nida (not her real name), a 17-year-old mother and health volunteer, who educates teenagers in her village about adolescent health, early pregnancy prevention and family planning.
Health volunteers, who are young mothers themselves like Nida, are trusted by their community – and their role within it has become even more crucial during the pandemic, says PPAT Programme Manager Pisamai Chailak. Together with the work of peer educators and community hospitals, their support reaches 135 teenage mothers and their partners and aims to reach 5,500 adolescents in Chiang Dao and Mae Ai districts.
UNICEF and PPAT recently distributed hygiene and essential supplies to help protect young families in Mae Ai and Chiang Dao with the help of these health volunteers, who coordinate demand and delivery on LINE group chats.
“It is difficult to find face masks and hand sanitizers here, and many cannot afford hygiene supplies,” said health volunteer Saijai (not her real name). “The reusable masks provided by UNICEF and PPAT will help families save money because these can be washed and re-used. Each child receives a bottle of hand sanitizer, and we teach them how to apply it correctly at school.”
Eighteen-year-old Meena (not her real name) recently became a mother. Stateless and without a Thai nationality, her partner struggles to access decent work and support the young family during the pandemic. Receiving essential supplies, including soap, shampoo, diapers, baby powder and mosquito nets, have helped the young family take care of their newborn on a small income.
Following the recent COVID-19 outbreak, youth leaders relocated their regular home and follow-up visits to young mothers to LINE group chats, only making in-person home visits during emergencies. Connecting young families to programmes, support and services during virtual and in-person home visits is even more critical as they face new or expanding challenges, such as domestic violence, substance use or mental health needs.
“With the help of our health volunteers since June 2020, teenage mothers are visited and looked after,” said Chailak. “Many did not know that their children needed to be vaccinated and did not have a way of reaching hospitals. Thanks to informative home visits and UNICEF-supported travel to hospitals for vaccination, the number of teenage mothers and children receiving healthcare services has increased remarkably. This support has reassured young families that they are not alone in facing their problems.”
Eighteen-year-old Kaewta (not her real name) was worried about bearing twins through natural childbirth. She received support under the Adolescent Pregnancy Programme for a C-section at a hospital in a nearby district, and health workers made a home visit to counsel her on taking care of her newborns.
The Adolescent Pregnancy Programme is also helping young parents from vulnerable groups gain employment amid the COVID-19 economic downturn through career assessment and vocational training from partners such as Friends-International Thailand and Nong Khiaw Royal Project Development Centre. Kaewta’s husband has an unstable income as a seasonal worker and was considering migrating to Lamphun Province for a longan fruit picking job. Through Royal Project training on home-grown vegetables, he can reduce household expenditure, generate an alternative income and stay with his family.
Although unplanned pregnancies are often hidden by families due to social stigma, following UNICEF and PPAT’s comprehensive support for teenagers and young mothers, more young families have come forward not only to receive help but to help others as the next health volunteers. And with greater trust in their community, the most vulnerable group has also come forward – stateless families, who face the most barriers in accessing healthcare and decent work especially during COVID-19.
“Our plan is for our boy to learn more life skills when he reaches the ages of 3-4 and to go to school in the city in the future,” said Nida, inspired by her experiences as a health volunteer to overcome COVID-19 disruption and the challenges of statelessness faced by her partner to give their child a good education.
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