An ethnic child receiving health check at a clinic in Son La Province's Muong Gion Commune.
The northern mountainous province of Son La has succeeded in vaccinating 95% of pregnant women and children under the National Vaccination Programme, thanks to efforts of the provincial health centres and grassroots health workers.
Under the programme, being implemented in the last five years in remote hamlets of the province, health workers administered seven categories of vaccinations to over 32,000 local children last year.
To achieve 100% vaccination in the province, the provincial Preventive Health Centre had sent workers to supervise the implementation of vaccination in communes, and increase the awareness of grassroots health staff.
Work, however, was difficult, and doctors and health workers have to reach remote hamlets, such as Muong Leo, Chieng Khuong in Song Ma District, from the district centre. Health worker, sometimes spend a day walking to reach some remote hamlets.
Doctor Nguyen Tuan Anh of Son La Province's Preventive Health Centre said when health workers visited these hamlets, pregnant women and children, who were the beneficiaries of this vaccination programme, were usually found working on the land.
To lure ethnic minority children, health workers had to resort to other means like distributing candies and sweets, he said. Most of these vaccination trips made by health workers were short, mostly two days at a stretch, but according to Tuan, the workers often have to stay for at least a week, to help increase awareness among villagers and guide parents on the side effects of vaccines.
Children usually were prone to catch fever after vaccination, worrying parents, and the support of health workers was crucial during this period, he said. "Parents are worried about the fever, and tend to run away from health workers when they approach them for continuing the vaccination programme," he said.
Before 2000, the province had about 60 hamlets, with Sop Cop and Song Ma district accounting for 58, untouched by vaccination programmes. Polio, measles and tetanus were common, and the rate of newborn children dying from these diseases was high, especially in the two hamlets of Mong ethnic minority people.
Lo Van Hai, head of the Nam Pam Commune's Clinic said, "It takes a day's walk to reach these hamlets. A worker has to climb up and down the mountains many times for a vaccination term of six injections.
But allowances for workers remain meagre and unchanged, at VND3,000 for six injections, in the last ten years."
While the issue of allowance has dampened the enthusiasm of grassroots health workers, who also have to tend to their families and children, lack of quality workers and long-term human resource programmes have affected the project, reducing the number of children vaccinated recently.
Some of the communes in the province do not have access to the national power grid, affecting the shelf life of medicines. To improve the results of the vaccination programme, Son La's heath sector has called for investments for medical equipment and increasing the allowance of workers.
VIETNAMNET - (27/09/2005)