Shona Jennings, ChildFund’s Programmes Director, visited Covalima in Timor-Leste in May, to see a Community Health Programme in action, providing much needed care to women and children.

I’m writing from Covalima in Timor-Leste. Today I visited a Community Health Post where 230 people waited to see the doctor who comes just once a month.

Pregnant and breast-feeding mothers get vitamin-enriched flourPregnant and breast-feeding mothers get vitamin-enriched flour

Until I understood what was going on, the scene with all these women appeared to be one of chaos. Names were being called over a loud-hailer, babies were crying, women weaved to-and-fro across an open-walled meeting room. Then it was explained that there where different tables in the room staffed by ChildFund Health Workers or Ministry of Health staff. Each woman (and her child) wove her way to at least three of these different posts, which included a doctor station, breast-feeding and child nutrition advisers, an immunisation and medication table, and sanitation information stand. ChildFund health workers were also distributing vitamin-enriched flour to pregnant women, to ensure they’re receiving appropriate nutrients to grow a healthy baby.

A mother brings her baby to see a doctorA mother brings her baby to see a doctor

There were several very sick, limp children. One baby seemed to be falling in and out of consciousness. A ChildFund Health Volunteer quickly came to the mother’s aid and organised for the baby to be raced to hospital. She suspected the baby had pneumonia, made worse by dampness, poor nutrition, high humidity, and living in thatched housing that’s open to the elements. Many children’s lives must have been saved by such timely interventions. Kiwis should be proud of their contribution in providing the life-saving training to these Community Health Volunteers.

Isadora and her pregnancy record bookIsadora and her pregnancy record book

Isadora, in her bright orange dress, stood out from the crowd. Normally at work in the fields, Isadora walks two kilometres to the health clinic each month, on her own or with two or three children in tow. The 42 year-old is expecting her fifth child next month. “This is the only chance I have to make sure my baby is okay, or to get my little ones seen by a doctor if they are sick. I come every month without fail.”

Isadora shows me her record book where any health issues she has during pregnancy are tracked. She proudly runs her hand over her tiny bump – it’s hard to believe that in a few weeks she’ll give birth. Like most of the mums-to-be attending the clinic, she and her husband struggle to provide adequate year-round food for the family. Good nutrition is important for feotal development, particularly baby size, brain and organ development. Poor nutrition before and during pregnancy affects a child’s health prospects and potential throughout life.

There are other issues that affect the health of women and children in Timor-Leste: unsafe water and malarial conditions are two of the big ones. ChildFund has made these a priority in its health programme here. Access to clean water can significantly decrease the incidence of diaorrhea and scabies, so I’ll be visiting a village to find out what their new water points and access to clean water has meant to them. I also spied a room full of mosquito nets ready for distribution, as part of another ChildFund/Ministry of Health joint initiative. Malarial conditions are prevalent here, and these nets, along with an awareness programme, are a simple preventative measure to decrease the risk of disease.

Just a few days in Covalima, and I am so, so impressed at what ChildFund is doing. What’s important to me is how ChildFund is working hand-in-hand with the government. ChildFund doesn’t want to create dependency – it wants to assist properly planned programmes that are part of a bigger vision for the district. Our teams are right there, working alongside, helping make things happen. New Zealand sponsorship money and donor funding is being really well used to support the poorest in this district. As the Ministry of Health official told me, “Without ChildFund, there are many activities we could not do to deliver the kind of urgent health services needed for women and children here. Thank you, ChildFund.”

If you’d like to help ChildFund provide essential community health services in Timor-Leste, you can donate here.   

 

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