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Roads may be rare in this Vietnamese commune, but immunization rate tops 97%

Friday, June 14, 2019, 11:58 GMT+7
Roads may be rare in this Vietnamese commune, but immunization rate tops 97%
A nurse is about to vaccinate a patient. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

A remote commune in Vietnam’s southernmost province of Ca Mau has not let a lack of infrastructure stop nearly 100 percent of its residents from making sure their children make it to the nearest medical center for vaccinations.

Inaccessibility, often caused by poor infrastructure, is one of the main reasons why immunization rates in Vietnam’s most rural areas remain low, but the people of Lam Hai Commune, Nam Can District, Ca Mau refused to believe that a shortage of roads would mean a lack of vaccines for their children.

In 2018 alone, Lam Hai residents, with the help of doctors from the commune’s medical center, were able to achieve a 97 percent immunization rate for children under one year old. 

And the way they reached that number will shock anyone.

Local canoes dock as the families bring their children to the medical center of Lam Hai Commune. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

Local canoes dock as the families bring their children to the medical center of Lam Hai Commune. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

Rowing toward immunization

Doctor Nguyen Ngoc Quy moved to Ca Mau 13 years ago to take on the role of a director at Lam Hai Medical Center in the namesake commune. 

Dr. Quy’s medical background could have secured him a post closer to his hometown, in neighboring Bac Lieu Province, but the opportunity to ensure those without access to proper medicine could receive medical care was too important for him to pass up.

When Quy first started, there were almost no cement roads in the region, with eight out of Nam Can District’s 11 hamlets depending entirely on dirt paths and waterways for transport.

The challenge of transportation created a serious dilemma for local families. 

For rural residents, the decision to spend hours paddling through tiny waterways for a child's vaccination means missing out on a full day of work.

Understanding that unvaccinated children present dangers to the entire community, Dr. Quy took it upon himself to spend hours each day visiting households in the commune to educate each individual family on the importance of vaccinations and attempting to persuade them to schedule regular visits for their children at the medical center.

Doctor Nguyen Ngoc Quy (third from left) talks to a family about the importance of vaccinating. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

Doctor Nguyen Ngoc Quy (third from left) talks to a family about the importance of vaccination. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

Of course, visiting families in Lam Hai is easier said than done.

Lam Hai is one of Ca Mau’s biggest communes, with several of its hamlets located up to ten kilometers away from the medical center. 

With eight of its hamlets having no concrete roads, making house calls was not exactly a stroll in the park.

Local canoes dock as the families bring their children to the medical center of Lam Hai Commune. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

Local canoes dock as the families bring their children to the medical center of Lam Hai Commune. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

For instance, the parents of Nguyen Tran Tuan Kiet, who live just three kilometers away from the medical center, spend an hour traveling each time the four-month-old baby needs a vaccination shot.

Similarly, Tran Thi Huyen Nhu, the mother of 18-month-old Gia Hao, said it is almost impossible to reach the medical center on rainy days, but she insists that the idea of allowing her child to miss a shot due to weather conditions is unimaginable.

A family travels by canoe to Lam Hai Commune’s medical center to have their child vaccinated at the beginning of the month. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

A family travels by canoe to Lam Hai Commune’s medical center to have their child vaccinated at the beginning of the month. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

All for parents

The Lam Hai Medical Center has earned a reputation in the district for its outstanding hygiene and modern approach to public health, employing ‘vaccination reminder’ text messages so parents do not forget scheduled injections for their kids.  

According to one local woman, the center not only reminds her of vaccination appointments, but also provides important instructions on how to care for children during the days following an injection.

The medical center also runs a 24/7 hotline so parents can always call in with questions.

Thanks to the extreme uptick in vaccinations during recent years, reported cases of whooping cough, measles, tuberculosis, and tetanus in the commune have significantly dropped.

A doctor at Lam Hai Commune’s medical center speaks with a patient. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

A doctor at Lam Hai Commune’s medical center examines a patient. Photo: Tan Thai / Tuoi Tre

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