In sparsely populated rural areas where communities have to travel long distances to the nearest clinic, accessing basic health services can be difficult. As a result, outreach services, where medical staff provide basic medical care directly in the communities, are vital for helping community members stay healthy.
During outreach visits, midwives will provide vaccinations to children, monitor the condition of pregnant women and new mothers, and offer contraception services. Health staff provide health and nutrition education, providing vitamin supplements where needed, and tend to minor injuries or ailments. They can help refer patients to the relevant health centre or hospital when they deem it necessary. All of these services are vital to ensure that children in remote and marginalised communities grow healthily and do not succumb to preventable diseases.
These visits also allow health workers to monitor trends and recurring problems so that they can report back on these to the local health centre. This is very important for spotting outbreaks of disease early on and taking action to prevent these, such as providing early treatment for malaria.
For the Boeng Preav Health Centre in Koh Kong province, outreach is a big challenge. Some of the most remote areas that they cover can only be reached via a 6-8 hour boat journey, meaning the occasional visits of health workers are the communities’ only access to healthcare. Without support to cover their transportation, staff found it difficult to visit these isolated villagers regularly, meaning children did not receive vaccinations and illnesses were left untreated. Two villages had not accessed any health services for over a year.
The funding from GSK has made a huge difference to the centre’s outreach work. With the food and transportation of staff covered by the project, they are able to guarantee regular visits to all communities so they have the opportunity to see a health worker at least once every two months. In addition to food and transportation, the project supports health education materials such as key messages flipcharts to help improve community members’ knowledge of topics such as nutrition and treatments for common ailments.
The chief of the Boeng Preav Health Centre says that since the project started, the number of children receiving standard immunisations such as tetanus has increased, and he hopes that this will continue to rise. Improving the quality and frequency of the health services available within communities has not only increased the number of people that medical staff are able to reach, but also helped to improve community members’ engagement with health workers so that they have better trust and are more inclined to access medical services in the future.