Plea to save children

Lai Ying-kit

HK students shocked by lack of proper health care in Laos

Lai Ying-kit |

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Adrian Fung (left) and Carol Wong are organising an inter-university campaign to encourage students to help children living in poverty.
Imagine having to travel for three hours to get to the nearest hospital whenever you were ill. If it was raining, the journey would be even longer, as cars get stuck in muddy, rutted roads. As for hospital conditions, think about being treated in tattered rooms, full of dust, with a hole in the roof.

These scenes remain imprinted on Adrian Fung Chi-heng's mind after a summer education trip to Laos with a fellow university student.

The pair returned with a greater understanding of child health in the Southeast Asian country, and are now organising an inter-university campaign to encourage students to help impoverished children.

During the six-day trip organised by World Vision Hong Kong, Fung and Carol Wong Pui-kwan learned about the plight of poor children in remote villages in Pakxeng, in northeastern Luang Prabang province.

As a medical student, Fung paid particular attention to the medical facilities. He was concerned insufficient resources and a lack of proper health care for mothers could be responsible for the high mortality rate among infants in Laos' rural areas.

"Medical facilities lag behind generally in the rural areas. In Pakxeng, people from 58 villages have to travel three hours to the only hospital in the area," the Year Three student from the University of Hong Kong says.

When he stepped into the emergency room, he was shocked by the facilities there. "It had one tattered bed while there was a large hole in the roof. Patients would be exposed to the weather on rainy days and it would not be good for them," he says.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the region. Its child mortality rate is high - out of 1,000 newborn babies, 70 will die within the first 30 days. This rate is far higher than the average of one out of 1,000 in developed countries. A further 28 out of 1,000 children in Laos die before they can reach the age of five.

Doctors and nurses are also not properly trained due to a lack of funds, depriving the population of adequate health care, Fung says. "All the doctors and nurses in the hospital are volunteers from foreign aid agencies and there are only a few of them. Often mothers giving birth can only be attended by one nurse. In an emergency, there might be no doctors around."

According to the United Nations, 9 million children around the world die before they turn five every year. Two-thirds of these deaths could be prevented with simple things such as clean water and basic medicine.

Wong, a Year Two business student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, urges more education to raise awareness about proper health care.

"For example, when free vaccinations are offered, many residents are scared because it's something new to them; they even flee to the mountains," he says.