Primary Health Care Project in Laos
During the Primary Health Care Project in Laos, students spend 10 days in Laos participating in medical and primary health care activities in both urban and rural areas. Intended for students of the School of Medicine, Faculty of Nursing and Medical Care, and Faculty of Pharmacy, the program includes a 14-part pre-departure training and lecture series to teach students as much as possible about Laos before they enter the country. These introductory lectures help students think about how to approach health care activities in Laos from their respective fields of expertise.
The Lao People's Democratic Republic, commonly known as Laos, is located in Southeast Asia and has a tropical, monsoon climate that is divided into a rainy season and a dry season. Precautions must be taken year round against mosquitoes that carry dengue fever and malaria. Due to a lack of medical facilities and personnel, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has long provided international aid to the country to help remedy its relatively low standards of health. Through the Primary Health Care Project in Laos, students are able to visit the offices of organizations that oversee support throughout Laos, including JICA and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Students also receive in-country lectures that provide firsthand information on the current state of health care in Laos, including the successes and struggles of working to meet both the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals, as well as observe local medical institutions and participate in maternal and child health support project activities. An exchange with students at the University of Health Sciences, Laos, which is conducted entirely in English, is another chance for students to deepen their knowledge as health professionals who will be responsible for shaping the future of international medicine.
“Laos is somewhere I had never considered visiting before, but this program brought it to my attention. I wanted to see for myself what life was like in a developing country,” explains Kohei Furuya, a fifth-year student at the Keio University School of Medicine. He applied to the program after hearing about it from a good friend. “I was very surprised to learn that the maternal mortality rate in Laos is 40 times higher than it is in Japan,” Furuya says.
Minako Kido, a third-year student in the Faculty of Nursing and Medical Care, initially came to Keio University because of her interest in international midwifery. She enrolled in the IPE Program for the opportunity to get hands-on experience in international health care support.
“Even before university, I knew that Keio was dedicated to international medical research. I enrolled in Keio's IPE Program hoping to participate in as many international projects as I possibly could,” Kido says. The program’s latest project was focused on the field of maternal and child health. Students were even able to witness a live birth during their clinical internship at a hospital in Salavan Province in the south of Laos.
“The hospital had delivery rooms, but there were no doors, leaving new and expecting mothers completely exposed from the hallway. Even a curtain could have made a world of difference. It made me think about how necessary it is to protect a patient's privacy,” Kido added.
It seems that there were many things that stood out in the eyes of a nurse. “There were quite a few things that I didn’t notice until we were actually at the hospital.” The days were filled with discussions as students from each faculty shared their insights on how they thought they could help improve conditions at each of the places they visited.
During their 10 days abroad, students spend two nights and three days in a remote village and stay with local families while conducting sanitation and hygiene education at a school in the area. Students visit the same elementary school every year, so they inherit techniques and equipment from former project participants and have an opportunity to add their own ideas and improvements. One of these ideas was a hand washing station at one of the elementary school. Current students heard that the station had been built two years prior, in 2016, but upon arrival at the school they found that parts of it were either rusted or broken. It seems that many villagers had used it to wash vegetables, but there was no sign that children had used it to wash their hands. Upon further investigation, students decided to fix the now defunct hand washing station. They repainted it, swapped broken parts for new ones, and brought in soap, a rare commodity in the area. They then taught the children how to use the station to wash their hands, once again teaching the children the importance of washing their hands and explaining to the teachers how to maintain the equipment.