Humanitarian and Development Assistance for Children in Viet Nam
Story from Kon Tum, Viet Nam
It was getting late when Ms. Y Bin and her daughter in O village, home to an ethnic minority community in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum, welcomed a familiar face. Nguyen Thi Vy, a health worker at Ya Xier commune, has become a close and trusted family friend during the past several months. She has visited 19-month-old Y Nha Ca each week since September 2016 when the child was detected as having severe acute malnutrition (SAM) due to a chronically poor diet as a result of the worst drought in 90 years affecting many parts of Viet Nam. But thanks to the regular house visits and attentive care from Ms. Vy and her team, the little girl has gained weight and recovered after four months’ nutritional treatment.
“Now she has recovered. She currently weighs 7.4 kilogrammes and the measurement of her Mid-Upper Arm Circumference is 12.6 centimetres. Four months ago, it used to be red [an indicator of SAM] - now it’s green. Her health status has returned to normal,” said Ms. Vy.
Y Nha Ca is one of 376 SAM children in Kon Tum and one of thousands from other provinces to have received potentially life-saving detection and treatment as part of a UNICEF, Government of Viet Nam emergency response since early 2016 to the drought and saltwater intrusion crisis, with funding from the Government of Japan and United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). The nutrition response, in six out
of the 10 target provinces (Ca Mau, Tra Vinh, Hau Giang, Kon Tum, Ninh Thuan, and Gia Lai) - complemented by a WASH component, has reached 83,569 pregnant and lactating women and 62,279 young children aged 6-23 months, while 7,600 children under five years with SAM were detected and treated by the end of March 2017. UNICEF, the Ministry of Health, National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) and Viet Nam Red Cross played integral roles in achieving this effective nutrition response.
For local health staff like Ms. Vy, seeing measurements of children’s arms turn from red to green to indicate recovery from SAM provides a great sense of pride. In the six months since September 2016, millions of packages of nutrition treatment products for malnourished children were delivered to families in 55 districts and nearly 600 communes in the six affected provinces to help restore their nutrition status to normal.
To provide an effective health response to the crisis and future natural disasters, UNICEF and partners worked with Ms. Vy and local health staff in Kon Tum and other targeted provinces to build their capacity. Having attended nutrition training provided by NIN and Provincial Centre for Reproductive Health, Ms. Vy and other health workers are now better prepared to screen, detect and treat SAM children, protect pregnant and lactating women and support young children with micro-nutrient deficiencies.
“UNICEF not only focuses on short-term support, such as timely detection of SAM children for treatment, we also have long-term interventions such as capacity building for staff from central [NIN] to provincial and local levels, especially in provinces suffering from drought and natural disasters,” said Dr. Nguyen Dinh Quang, nutrition specialist, UNICEF Viet Nam.
The project also provided household water treatment supplies, water storage, handwashing facilities and water filtration systems to the 10 target provinces in the Central Highlands, South Central coastal and Mekong Delta regions to provide safe drinking water and promote sanitation and hygiene practices to minimize diseases for 78,000 households with more than 92,000 children. In the case of Ms. Y Bin, it means water brought from the nearby river is now safe for her family to drink thanks to water purification sachets and disinfection tablets funded by the project.
Now Ms. Y Bin and her J'Rai community members are also determined to eliminate open defecation from their village. With support from Viet Nam Red Cross, community-led total sanitation triggering sessions have been held and project-funded latrines built across six provinces. With this new found knowledge, Ms. Y Bin and thousands of J'Rai community members like her are willing to change their behaviour to protect themselves and others from water-borne diseases.
Kon Tum is one of the regions to have responded most quickly to the drought in 2016, thanks to its experience in dealing with previous natural disasters. "We have to prepare in advance, to develop disaster preparedness plans - from province, district to commune levels - to mobilize all locally available resources to be ready for disaster responses to protect our development gains," said Dr. Duong Huu Hien, deputy director of Kon Tum Reproductive Health Centre.
To support Kon Tum and other provinces vulnerable to natural disasters, UNICEF's humanitarian assistance is building an important bridge between the emergency response and development phase, demonstrating delivery of quality nutrition and WASH services for children and institutional capacity building to deliver these essential services longer-term across all 10 targeted provinces. The integrated nutrition and WASH response in Kon Tum fits into a broader emergency response to the immediate crisis, but also better prepare communities for future ones. UNICEF Viet Nam continues to work to translate its vision on child-centred disaster risk reduction into concrete actions to consolidate efforts across sectors and national and sub-national levels to ensure communities, families and children can cope with the more frequent and intensive impacts of climate change-related disasters.
“With UNICEF support, we are better prepared now. Vy is a very good example of how building the capacity of commune health staff is fundamental to strengthening the health system’s readiness for when natural disasters strike,” said Dr. Hien.