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AHC is Saving Babies’ Lives

Saving Babies' Lives

In Cambodia’s poorest province, AHC is reducing newborn deaths – from rural villages to the provincial hospital.

At a remote health centre in northern Cambodia just below the Thai border, a small group of volunteer health workers gather. It’s a Village Health Support Group (VHSG), and it’s one of dozens that takes place across the province. The volunteers who attend VHSG’s are here to discuss the needs and issues of newborn healthcare in their isolated villages.

The health centre is located in Preah Vihear province, home to lush rainforests, rolling hills and scenic mountain-top temples. It is also home to the highest neonatal mortality rate (28 days or younger) in the country, far higher than mortality rates globally: it’s estimated that one in 40 babies born in Preah Vihear will die. Across the border in Thailand, the rate is one death for every 188 babies born, according to UNICEF. 

Volunteer health workers in Preah Vihear Cambodia
Volunteer health workers leave home after a VHSG meeting at a rural health centre.

AHC is tackling this problem head on with our Saving Babies’ Lives (SBL) programme. The programme is designed to extend across each of the villages and health centres in Preah Vihear, all the way through to the province’s main referral hospital. SBL addresses the continuum of neonatal care across each level of the health system; by training the community to adopt and manage the SBL programme, improving care across remote heath centres across the province, and replicating AHC’s best practices for the Preah Vihear Provincial Referral Hospital, to make this the last stop for neonatal care in the province.

“The main objective of the Saving Babies Lives programme is to reduce the neonatal mortality rate by one third within five years.”

Prak Manila, Director of AHC’s Global Child Health Department
Delivery room in a rural health centre in Preah Vihear, Cambodia
A typical delivery room in a rural health centre.

This is why, at community health centres across the province, the volunteer health workers are meeting to discuss neonatal healthcare, and ultimately, to improve the health of newborn babies in their villages. The meeting is one of hundreds that will take place across Preah Vihear province in the coming years. The SBL team meets regularly with VHSGs to identify barriers to neonatal health in the villages they come from, and with health centre staff to educate and train them on how to effectively treat, resuscitate and care for new-born babies along with a mentorship programme to ensure retention. It’s all part of the SBL programme, developed in strong collaboration with the Preah Vihear Provincial Health Department under the Ministry of Health.

At Preah Vihear Referral Hospital conditions can be challenging. The wards can overflow with patients, without the staff or equipment to cope. Effective newborn care however requires dedicated space, specialised knowledge and trained staff. In response, the referral hospital and AHC’s SBL team have collaborated on building out a new Neonatal Care Unit to treat the most severe cases in the province. The team has trained the hospital staff in neonatal care and equipment – a training which has already saved babies’ lives – and continues to mentor staff on best practices. Conditions like sepsis now receive immediate, effective treatment, which previously would have been referred to larger hospitals in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, a three-hour drive away.

Mothers wait by their babies’ side at the Neonatal Care Unit in Preah Vihear Referral Hospital, Cambodia
Mothers wait by their babies’ side at the Neonatal Care Unit in Preah Vihear Referral Hospital.

While the programme officially launched in late 2018, it’s been in the making for over 10 years. By building relationships within the province and the government healthcare system, AHC has been able to secure the support to launch and implement the programme at every level of care. And at each level, the programme has been well-received, from volunteer health workers to provincial health department officials. It’s what allows the programme to operate effectively, and will ultimately ensure its sustainability.

AHC and SBL are working to make a sustained and tangible impact on neonatal mortality in Cambodia, by making neonatal care a priority, and building on our knowledge and experience to improve healthcare in the region. It’s a concerted effort – stretching from villages all the way to the referral hospital in the centre of Preah Vihear – and it’s aimed at one thing: giving babies a fighting chance.

AHC’s Saving Babies’ Lives team trains hospital staff at Preah Vihear Referral Hospital, Cambodia.