Health & Hope have a long-standing relationship with the Guernsey Overseas Aid & Development Commission. As committed partners of our work, the Commission has funded some significant projects (including the hydro-electric water supply and the rebuilding of the Health & Hope Training Centre), enabling Health & Hope’s work to have substantial impact in western Myanmar. This year, the Guernsey Overseas Aid & Development Commission celebrate 40 years of their work and we are grateful for their ongoing partnership and support.
Dr Nick Paluch, one of the Guernsey Overseas Aid & Development Commissioners, has visited the work of Health & Hope twice in Lailenpi and has also hosted Dr Sasa during his visit to Guernsey. He recently penned some of his reflections following his latest visit to Chin State...
From Chin State to Guernsey... and back !
As one of Guernsey’s Overseas Aid & Development Commissioners I was delighted to host Dr Sasa's flying visit to Guernsey last November. In the space of 24 hours we fitted in a meeting with the Commission, a live broadcast on BBC Radio Guernsey, a tour of the famous ‘Little Chapel’ and a bracing walk on our beautiful south coast cliffs.
This March when I visited Lailenpi the tables were turned and Dr Sasa was able to play the host. I arrived just before sunset and was immediately taken to see the airstrip being built above his home town of Lailenpi, with its magnificent views across to the Chin Hills on the border with India.
Over the course of the next two weeks I did some teaching sessions with the Area Co-ordinators and with the nurses, acted as mentor to the three medical students from Southampton who had travelled with me to Lailenpi, helped out at the Hope Clinic and joined in some of the exuberant celebrations accompanying the General Assembly of the Mara Evangelical Church. This was my second visit to Lailenpi and like last time it was a joy and a privilege to be welcomed into such a close knit, resourceful and loving community.
Guernsey has an association with Health & Hope which goes back many years. Previous grants from the Commission have helped to finance the clinic building, the hydro-electric plant and the impressive training centre which would have been opened by the British Ambassador during my stay had it not been for the intervention of the Covid crisis.
Fortunately on the day before I left I was able to lay the foundation stone for the brand new Guernsey funded accommodation block and as I write this article just three months later it is already nearing completion!
This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Guernsey Overseas Aid & Development Commission and Dr Sasa was due to attend a symposium and dinner to celebrate the occasion. Travel restrictions have meant that the event has been cancelled but of course the working relationship between Health & Hope and the Commission will continue.
I very much look forward to hosting Dr Sasa in Guernsey again as soon as I can and I look forward with equal enthusiasm to my next visit to Lailenpi when like him I may even be able to arrive by air!
At Health & Hope we believe in the power of great partnerships.
We have a big vision, and we recognise that we can’t achieve it on our own. That is why we seek to build close relationships with partners who can help us achieve our mission.
One organisation we have partnered with since 2016 is International Health Partners (IHP). Based on a simple idea, its model involves matching medicine and health supplies to need. It is a global health charity that coordinates the safe and responsible donation of medicines and health supplies to people who lack access.
Through our partnership, IHP has provided a broad range of medicines and supplies such as antibiotics and multivitamins as part of our Community-led Health Programme and Hope Clinic, based in Lailenpi. In the last year, our partnership with IHP has enabled the provision of 53,000 treatments in the communities where we work.
"Health & Hope’s work in Chin state to train community health workers allows communities to access healthcare care across a large rural area – otherwise people would have to travel days to reach a healthcare facility,” says IHP’s programmes manager, Hannah Dean.
She adds: “We support Health & Hope with medicines and supplies, enabling community health workers to use kits that provide a range of primary healthcare treatments for different medical needs. We are delighted to support Health & Hope with a programme that is having such a huge impact across the region. The community health worker model should be encouraged across the sector as an effective way to deliver healthcare in remote areas."
Access to medication is a vital component in providing healthcare in a rural setting. These resources are highly sought after by the Community Health Workers (CHWs) whom we have trained throughout the region. Many patients with minor illnesses and injuries seen by the CHWs can be easily treated when these basic medications are available.
Through our Community-led Healthcare programme, we run a series of workshops each year, providing specialist training to Area Co-ordinators. The Co-ordinators disseminate this knowledge to the Community Health Workers who they oversee in their areas. The Area Co-ordinators are given bespoke training on safe use of medicines; contraindications; and guidance on how to log and track prescriptions.
In a recent random sampling of 54 villagers in nine villages, it was seen that the medicines distributed through the Health & Hope / IHP partnership were generally the only means of provision for villagers in the region.
In addition to our mobile community programme, IHP medicines have supplied Hope Clinic, based in Lailenpi, which treats close to 2,000 patients each year.
The joy of receiving supplies
Here is Revai, one of the Health & Hope trained CHW’s living in Pintia village receiving his pharmaceutical supplies. These are transported in rice sacks by motorbike, and then kept in secure boxes along with medication guidelines. There was incredible joy and a deep sense of gratitude on receipt of the supplies.
Revai was trained by Health & Hope in 2009-2010 and has served his village and community ever since. Common illnesses he has treated include typhoid, fever of unknown origin, diarrhoea, headaches and abdominal pain. Women with deep lacerations to limbs following injuries collecting firewood and motorbike accidents are also prevalent. Revai serves a small village of 30 households and spoke of how difficult it was to manage sick and injured patients without medications. Diagnosis is only part of the story for patients, and without appropriate medicine some do not get better.
Where medications are not available, Revai will write down what is needed and leave it up to the individual or their family to source them. Even if they have enough money, medication can be difficult to find. There are also a large number of counterfeit products sold at local markets, and so any medicine bought this way comes at a risk.
Where medication is available in local shops and pharmacies, there is a higher cost involved. Families in Chin State place a very high importance on their health and are even willing to go into debt to purchase medicine. This is a growing problem for households not just in Chin State, but across the whole of Myanmar.
Being able to provide medications, thanks to our partnership with IHP, not only works to avoid significant family debt, but also ensures timely treatment. This dramatically improves outcomes for patients, and reduces the risk of secondary conditions.
We value working with an organisation that has vital networks and expertise, and one that shares our values and mission.
Our partnership with IHP has enabled us to achieve so much more than we could manage on our own.
The Coronavirus pandemic has brought a host of new challenges to the rural poor in Myanmar (Burma) with the lockdown jeopardising the local economy, healthcare, education and food systems.
Health & Hope is addressing the crisis through our COVID-19 Response project. Alongside this, our ongoing community services remain as vital as ever.
We launched our response on 21st April 2020. Five medical teams undertook an enormous logistical challenge, deliverying resources and health education to 135 remote villages in Chin State, in addition to reaching 4 makeshift camps for Internally Displaced People (IDP) in Samee.
Hospitals and rural clinics in Chin State also had diminishing access to resources as the country went into lockdown and we were pleased to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and vital medical supplies to 13 hospitals and rural clinics.
In addition, our health team produced educational leaflets, posters and videos in local languages to stem a tide of confusion in villages across the region.
What was achieved in numbers:
Access into villages across Chin State varies due to location and proximity to roads and larger towns. The majority of villages targeted can only be access by motorbike or foot on jungle paths. Furthermore, the beginning of the monsoon season also brought significant challenges.
The quality of local education and access to information was evident as the team arrived in each village. In some areas the team were welcomed with open arms, in others there were check gates set up on the village perimeter. The villages closer to the larger towns already had a good understanding of COVID-19, although there were many rumours and myths about the virus. In the more isolated villages, communities had very limited understanding or no prior knowledge about the pandemic.
Villagers in Chin State had generally reacted to the lockdown in one of two ways. For those who had access to news or social media, there was a certain amount of fear due to the pandemic’s global scale. By contrast, the second response was one of apathy. Many people could not see how they could contribute to preventing an outbreak in their community.
At the same time, very real issues of the lockdown had began to have an impact on livelihoods.
Whilst the lockdown was vital for curtailing the spread of the virus, these measures have had significant consequences for communities whose resources are already precarious. Villagers are struggling with increased prices for commodities, alongside the closure of markets to sell their goods.
Travel restrictions also mean that some communities no longer have access to government healthcare, and so other health issues, unrelated to the pandemic, are going untreated. A recent survey of 60 villagers in 10 villages reported that Health & Hope-trained Community Health Workers continued to be the main or only healthcare provider in their village, highlighting that our work remains just as vital during these times.
Even if there is no significant spread of COVID-19 into rural areas, people will continue to face enormous challenges as they struggle to meet their daily needs, especially now that the monsoon season approaches, and the next rice harvest is not until the autumn.
Concern for those in conflict areas
The concerns are even more grave in southern Chin State where conflict continues between the Arakanese Army (AA) and Myanmar's Armed forces. Health & Hope teams travelling in these areas faced additional challenges due to curfews and the risk of being caught up in the violence.
There are currently over 11,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) registered across Chin State. However, actual estimates for the last 12 months are as high as 30,000 with people suspected of hiding in the jungle, or having moved to live with relatives in other villages.
People in IDP camps have inadequate sanitation and access to clean water, which poses a serious risk to health. In the camps, each family is responsible for cooking their own food, with few facilities or resources for doing so. Our teams could see little formal NGO activity taking place, with rice and vegetables being delivered just twice a week.
Planning for the year ahead
Health & Hope’s Training Centre in Lailenpi has been prepared in case of an influx of cases in the community. Preparatory work by our partner EMI (Engineering Ministries International) has been undertaken to identify the best method for managing patients should a short-term hospital ward be required. However, signs are positive that there are currently no known cases of COVID-19 in southern Chin State.
The monsoon season significantly hampers our ability to stay in touch with more remote communities. In many cases, entire areas become impassible. One positive outcome is that the isolation is likely to limit the potential spread of the virus. However, it also means that monitoring and support becomes more difficult.
The local team will be undertaking a futher needs assessment in 30% of the villages visited under this project in July, to provide ongoing monitoring and support to the communities.
“When the village leaders announced that a team from Health & Hope would be coming I was really happy. They have provided so much to our village over the years and trained our Community Health Worker. Thank you so much for giving us the proper knowledge and information about this disease and equipment to protect us. God bless you and your colleagues.”
- Mr Hraile, Farmer in Sabawngte
If you have any questions about our COVID-19 response or how you can support our work, please contact our Partnerships Manager, Philippa Wilford.
Thank you for your support which is helping us to provide life-saving assistance to people in some of the most remote communities in the world.