Dr. Saschy volunteered at LFHC for 4 weeks from November to December 2015. She is a GP and Global Public Health doctor from Australia with a keen interest in child health and tropical medicine. She spent her time in Luang Prabang working across the outpatient, inpatient and emergency departments with the Lao staff (as well as riding her little bike around to the many temples in town and soaking up the serene atmosphere in the historical centre!).
I found out about the Lao Friends Hospital For Children a mere few months after it opened, when I was browsing child health development projects online. After reading about Friends without a Border’s incredible journey over the years with the Angkor Children’s Hospital, and what they planned to do at LFHC in Laos, I swear that my heart skipped a beat! I was instantly touched, and incredibly inspired by the goal they had set out to achieve. Next thing I knew, fast forward only a few months, and I was on a plane from Perth to Luang Prabang, and was soon riding a bicycle on the streets of the old-town, in awe of the beautifully lit temples in the evening, the sound of the gongs, and the mighty Mekong river beside me.
On my first day, before getting started in the outpatient department, I first met the wonderful team of Lao nurses, doctors, lab staff, radiographers, pharmacists and administration staff, as well as the expat team volunteers from all over the world who were there to guide the project and provide much needed educational opportunities within the hospital. I was so impressed by all the staff’s kindness & warmth, their positive attitudes, and their collective dedication to the cause.
The week that I arrived they were just about to open the Emergency Department, and there was a lot of training going on: resuscitation simulations, APLS skills and suturing workshops were all ‘on the go.’ It was great to be involved in some simulations and later see the local staff putting those essential skills into practice in the emergency room.
The medicine I encountered during my trip was thrilling to say the least! You never knew what was about to walk through the door. . . everything from swollen bellies from Ascaris worms and thalassemia in the outpatient department; to cases of acute dengue, TB, and osteomyelitis on the wards; to acute cardiac failure from severe thiamine deficiency (wet beri beri) in the emergency department; and some of the most distressing levels of severe acute malnutrition that I had personally seen.
Laos may seem worlds away from my usual practice as a city GP in Australia, however what I have seen the world over, from Senegal, to Bangladesh, to Peru, to Sydney, and now Laos… is that in order to live a full and healthy life, all children need access to the same fundamental things: safe water/sanitation, adequate nutrition, a roof over their heads, basic preventive health (including vaccines), education, and of course: love.
It really is unacceptable that in today’s day & age, with all our technological advances and wealth and progress, that there are so many children that have access to only 1 of those things: their parents love (which unfortunately is too often not enough to protect them from the cruelty of the environment they were born into).
With the language barriers (unfortunately my Lao skills are still in their infancy! and some families were from minority tribes with very different dialects) some parents maybe could not express in words to our staff what they felt when their child received the care they needed at the hospital, free of cost & free of judgment, but you could certainly see their relief in their faces.
I spoke to many local people in town on my days off , who spoke so fondly of LFHC. Already the people have seen what a difference the hospital is making to their community. LFHC is not just about treating individual children, I can see that there is a very clear effect it will have on current and future public health in Laos. The Laotian people are dealing with difficult uncertain times as they are propelled into the future with technology, and through rapid development, which in fact has had many negative impacts on their communities (such as the Chinese Dam project that will devastate many villages that depend on the Nahm Ou river as their lifeline), however as an outsider I was really struck by the incredible resilience and resolve of the Laotian people, and I do believe that it is projects such as the LFHC that will empower the community, by ensuring the health and prosperity of their children.
I was really excited to arrive in Laos for the first time and to become involved in the early days of a long term project which represents such an incredibly important leap forward for child health in Laos. I am certainly looking forward to returning to Laos again, and of course to following LFHC’s remarkable journey in the coming years.