Access to quality health care can be easily taken for granted in Australia but in rural Laos, where even reliable electricity and running water cannot be guaranteed, professional health care and advice can make a dramatic difference to the wellbeing of local communities.
The School of Nursing and Midwifery at Griffith University has offered short term placements to Laos for the past five years with 32 third year students participating in two placements this year and another 46 are booked across three placements in 2015.
The three week placement is to a Community Development project in the Seuang River Valley, three hours north of Luang Prabang. As an immersion placement, students and academics home-stay with local families in small villages, with only basic bedding and washing facilities, eating local food and participating in village life. Each community has between 200-400 people, and many have little or no access to regular health care. Infectious diseases, typhoid, gastroenteritis and basic musculoskeletal injuries are common in the community, but can often be treated with the right clinical equipment and knowledge. Health promotion activities are an integral part of the placement with students delivering sessions relevant to local conditions to all age groups. The students work closely with their Griffith academic supervisors, Lao Health Workers and interpreters to ensure appropriate provision of health care.
“Australian nurses and midwives work within challenging and complex health systems in an increasingly multicultural society. International experiences are important because they allow students to gain an understanding of providing culturally congruent care, not only to clients from other countries, but inclusive of our own Indigenous people” said Hazel Rands, Deputy BN Program Director and academic co-ordinator for the Griffith-Laos clinical placement project.
“Returning students have a better understanding of those who are different, particularly those from vulnerable backgrounds. A significant number of students who undertake the Laos placement later request subsequent rural placements or have taken up rural graduate positions”
Students are chosen through a selection process and come from all 3 campuses of Griffith’s School of Nursing and Midwifery. Participants attend pre-departure workshops to ensure an understanding of the nature of the project and to build capacity within the team. These workshops address logistics for students and staff, and include travel practicalities, health and hygiene concerns, personal safety, cultural sensitivity, local culture and religion.
Additionally, students and staff raise funds to support a specific community development project each year. So far the project has provided electricity to two local health clinics (2010), construction of a High School toilets and washing facilities (2011), extension of a remote clinic to include kitchen, toilet and bathing area (2012), establishment of a permanent water supply to High School toilet and washing facilities (2013), and in 2014 provided funds to complete the water supply and repair a local primary school building.
However, the placement is not all hard work with several cultural activities included in the itinerary. Students participate in cooking and weaving classes, traditional bamboo rafting and a visit to Pak Ou Caves. The groups spend the weekdays in local villages, returning to Luang Prabang each weekend, where they experience more aspects of Lao culture, including food, markets, temples, elephant riding and a Mekong River cruise.
Griffith’s School of Nursing and Midwifery has made a long-term commitment to this community development project and considers the program not only valuable for Griffith University graduates, but also the improved health outcomes for the villages.