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Laos: A Mother's Grief Turns to Joy

Basic health care and education in her village, enabled by World Vision, made all the difference for this woman’s family. Tragically, millions worldwide still lack access to inexpensive disease-fighting interventions.

November 2007

Eight-month-old Anoy is held by his mother, Mrs. Kham, during a routine checkup at the local clinic in their village of Phonthong, Laos. Her smile says it all; this medical service was made possible through World Vision's efforts to bring health care to an area where it was previously nonexistent and where the infant mortality rate was once high. Since the opening of the clinic, however, that rate has decreased dramatically. © 2007 Albert Yu/World Vision
Mrs. Kham is all smiles following the medical checkup of her son, 8-month-old Anoy. Kham, 27, also has two daughters, ages 6 and 9, and she is proud of her three healthy children.

But life wasn't always so happy and her children weren't always so healthy.

Kham recalls how life has improved since World Vision began working in her home village of Phonthong in the Southeast Asian nation of Laos just a few years ago.

A Tragic History

Kham's first pregnancy ended in miscarriage; her next two babies each died days after they were born.

Looking back, Kham admits she had no idea how to take care of herself during pregnancy before World Vision programs began in her area. As a lifelong farmer, she used to perform hard manual labor in the rice fields, right up until the day she gave birth — perhaps contributing to the tragic end of her first three pregnancies.

Sadly, infant death was alarmingly common in Phonthong until recently, and health services and education were nonexistent. About 15 infants died in the village each year.

Change for the Better

Today, the infant mortality rate in the village is drastically lower, with only one or two deaths per year. This change is attributed to the health care and basic education that are now available. In 2005, World Vision's team in Laos started a project to improve access to health care for women and children. The local staff provided financial support and training to district health workers; they also helped establish drop-in hours at the medical clinic in Phonthong.

When Kham was pregnant with Anoy last year, she was able to go to the clinic for regular checkups. "At each visit, the physician would give me advice," she says. "He said I should get lots of rest and taught me how to eat right."

Her son was born at the clinic. "The experience … was so different than giving birth at home," she says. "Right after Anoy was born, we received our immunizations. I felt really safe."

Access Still Out of Reach for Millions

World Vision works in countries such as Laos, providing maternal and child health education and medical care so that children can thrive and reach their God-given potential.

But millions of mothers and children around the world do not have access to health assistance, as Kham and her children did. Today, nearly 27,000 children under age 5 will die from preventable or treatable causes; that means an estimated 9.7 million children in this age group will die this year. And the vast majority of all child deaths (99 percent) occur in developing countries. Diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, measles, and HIV and AIDS are all life-threatening diseases for children in impoverished countries.

For countless children and families around the world, simple life-saving interventions — many of which cost less than $1 per day — are out of reach. For instance:

  • Diarrhea therapy costs 6 cents per treatment.
  • Antibiotics for respiratory infections cost 25 cents per treatment.
  • Anti-malaria tablets cost 12 cents per treatment.*

United States Can Help Improve Global Child Survival

Little Anoy playfully examines the stethoscope during his checkup at a World Vision-supported health clinic in his village of Phonthong, Laos.
Little Anoy playfully examines the stethoscope during his checkup at a World Vision-supported health clinic in his village of Phonthong, Laos.
© 2007 Albert Yu/World Vision

The good news is that some notable successes exist. For instance, a 50 percent reduction in deaths of children under age 5 between 1960 and 1990 was achieved due to a significant financial commitment by the United States to reduce global child mortality. Some basic life-saving interventions already prevent more than 3 million child deaths every year.

Despite this success, U.S. funding for maternal and child health programs has declined 20 percent since 1997.

As an advocate for children, World Vision believes that greater coordination of child and maternal health programs could yield even greater and more cost-effective results. World Vision and other organization members of the Child Survival Coalition are asking Congress to pass the United States Commitment to Global Child Survival Act of 2007 (H.R. 2266, S. 1418), which will help improve accountability and coordination of money being spent for child and maternal health.

"In much of the developing world, too many children are born to die," says Jennifer Bellamy, a World Vision policy advisor. "But with increased support for child survival and maternal health programs, we can reverse this tragic trend."

'My Children No Longer Get Sick'

Meanwhile, back in Laos, Kham has learned invaluable information about health care, hygiene, nutrition, and pre- and post-natal care through another World Vision program. "I've learned the importance of boiling water before drinking and that all our food should be cooked fully before we can eat.

"We're also sleeping under mosquito nets now, and my children no longer get sick," she says. "No more diarrhea, no more malaria, no more coughing. Today, they are stronger and have more energy."

Kham smiles, not just because her son had a good checkup, but also because her family now has hope. She feels empowered by her new knowledge, grateful that she can help her children grow up to be healthy and strong.

*Global Health Council, June 1, 2007. "Our Global Responsibility to the World's Children: A Global Health Council Position Paper on Child Health" (.pdf file)

Learn More

>> Read more about World Vision's work to improve child survival and maternal health and our advocacy efforts on this issue.

Three Ways You Can Help

>> Pray for parents around the world who struggle to keep their children healthy, especially in the critical first few years of life. Pray also for more resources and effective coordination to help improve global child survival rates.
>> Advocate. Ask your members of Congress to support the Global Child Survival Act of 2007 (H.R. 2266, S. 1418), which will help improve accountability and coordination of money being spent for child and maternal health.
>> Donate. Your gift of $25 sends life-saving immunizations and health care for children and families in need.

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