July 14, 2011
The chief’s wife in Pah Panang village, Boualapa districtm clears away the dishes from dinner- steamed fish, fish soup, and sticky rice. Night has fallen while were eating, and community members have quietly slipped in during the meal to join us on the floor. Soukasien, the IRD Health Officer, and I are here to assess a small first aid program.
A little over a year ago, remote communities with limited access to even their local health clinic were chosen from the 150 communities that IRD currently serves. A volunteer within each community was identified, provided a large first aid kit, and given a three day training to learn how to diagnose and treat common illnesses and injuries. While the community volunteer was, of course, free to treat other community members, the priority was providing basic care to children attending school.
The village chief and the community volunteer take turns answering questions as it gets later and later into the night. With enthusiasm, the community volunteer describes how the community developed a plan to sustain the first aid program once the donated medicine and materials in the first aid kit run out. Every child at school is charged Kip 5000 for the year (about 60 US cents)- a fee every family can afford. The funds are pooled and are available when new medicines and materials need to be purchased. This way, the chief states, “No sick person is charged.” If you are injured or ill, you don’t have to first wonder if your family has enough money to be treated.
The first aid program has already had a significant impact on the school children in Pah Panang. Before, a teacher had to walk a sick child home and wait for the parents to come back from working in the fields. The child (and teacher) missed the rest of the school day. But now, the child can be given a little medicine, allowed to rest for a half hour, and can then rejoin their class later.
While the most common illnesses the volunteer treated were stomach aches, toothaches, and fevers- he wished he knew more. Sometimes, he said, he is not sure when an illness is serious enough to refer the patient to the local health clinic- he is eager for more training to help his community.