MYTH: HEALTH PROGRAMS ARE BOTTOMLESS AND UNSUSTAINABLE
Of course health actions do not generate income, there are no loans and repayments as with microcredit. What is important though is the welfare of the people, not the program portfolio.
Thu has always a huge smile. “I’m lucky, my husband has a good job, he earns 2 euros per day about 6 months per year. I got the bone tuberculosis. It could not be treated well, the drugs were expensive. Finally I was so painful, I went to the hospital. They were nice, they cut my leg for free. “
Trung, our Veterinary at Mekong Plus, helps Thu to raise pigs. He called the NGO Handicap in Saigon, and got an address. He organized for Thu to go, and provided a little money to cover the hospital expenses … Today Thu smiles as before, but she now stands on two legs! In addition to raising pigs, she has now also a small vegetable garden.
Illnesses or accidents cause poverty
Health care is sometimes very expensive. Mekong Plus helps the poor for a small part and motivates the community to contribute. If there is an emergency, and for the poor, Mekong Plus covers all costs: for example, when a child is hit by a motorcycle etc.
In Vietnam the network of clinics is sufficient and usually effective for preventive programs. There remains the question of hygiene, often deplorable. For the poor, a minor accident or disease can make the whole family plunge into poverty.
In Cambodia the services are not as good and the health situation is much worse.
In case of illness diagnoses are often whimsical, leading to the consumption of large quantities of useless or dangerous medicines. Sometimes people prefer to go to the city, when it’s not the commune clinic that refers you there, but this is extremely costly especially for the very poor. A return trip to the city can cost the equivalent of the family budget for the month -the peasants are being ripped right off as soon as they get off the bus at the station.
Because of the exorbitant expenses they are often compelled to sell valuable assets like livestock, land or even their house at a low price. Even if they cannot work for a few days could lead to the worst disaster, most peasants do not have insurance, except the solidarity of neighbors. Emergency loans from moneylenders may cost 10% interests per month.
Hoa was let down by her husband, so she is alone to take care of the 3 children. She has no land, so she works as a daily laborer. But as she suffers from asthma, so often people do not call on her and prefer to give work to other workers. Hàng is in charge of the Dúc linh project. She took Hoa to a specialist in Saigon : it only cost a dozen Euros. Hoa is now in good health and can work, Hàng has also given her a micro credit to raise pigs.
Support for a good diagnosis
The villagers are often confused and become the victims of wrong diagnosis. Some unscrupulous doctors even scare them to extort more money: “We must do surgery right now or I will not take any responsibility.” In a panic the people sell their land at a ridiculous price, for an operation which is sometimes not even necessary! Mekong Plus offers a second diagnosis from a specialist friend in town.
Hygiène and prevention
The health education activities cover more than 200,000 children.
In the Khmer villages, when we first surveyed the villages, almost nobody had a clean latrine. This has now changed and 95% households have a proper latrine. In Vietnam as well, in some villages, access to water was difficult and latrines inexistent or dirty. After 19 years working in Dúc Linh, most households own latrines, personal hygiene has improved considerably. The infestation by intestinal worms has fallen from 90% down to less than 10%!
In the Mekong Delta, “the latrines are over the pond to feed the fish.” This common practice is banned by the government for the worms get out of the pond and become a health hazard.
Everywhere we propose clean but modest latrines (from 26 euros). This is a subsidy only for the poor families.