A little knowledge

Date Publish: 
03/19/13
Region-Country: 
Thailand / Asia

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, runs the old adage.

We beg to differ. A little knowledge, wisely used, can be the difference between life and death.

When no one knows what to do in an emergency, lives are needlessly lost. And when local people can be trained to recognize and react to common health threats, communities become healthier, and more stable. Long term, they may even become more prosperous, and people may be less inclined to migrate.

That’s part of the rationale behind a joint government/UN/IOM health initiative in Northern Thailand, which after three years of funding has been handed over to the community. IOM was in charge of training community health workers, and kitting out 13 health centres, and the results have been impressive.

Especially for Wirasat Kornapa, 33, who contacted cancer of the sinus ten years ago. More recently, he became ill with TB, and, thanks to the IOM-supported health post in his village, he gets visited three times a week by Sirichai Ratkhetbanpoot, 35, IOM’s community health worker.

Wirasat and Sirichai both live in the picturesque hillside village of Ban Huay San on a dusty, bumpy road 14 kilometres from Thailand’s border with Myanmar. Wirasat  is in a government-funded TB programme in Chang Mai hospital, some 300 kilometers away, but the regular care he receives in his own village makes life more than bearable. His mother, O, who has high blood pressure, also benefits from Sirichai’s training.           

“My prognosis is good, and I feel good”,  he says. “I am not strong enough to work in the rice fields yet but I can help out by feeding the pigs.”

The programme was designed, and is now managed by Pra Tom, a tall, genial Thai, based in the district capital Mae Hong Son, three hours of hairpin bends and corkscrew turns away across the mountains.

“There are many aspects of the community health programme which IOM helped us to establish,” he says, “and knowledge of how to protect communities from tuberculosis is a very important feature of this. Not only do we teach people about prevention, we also have trained health workers who can implement DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short-course) in some of the remotest regions of the country, and along migrant corridors.”

Under the Bridge: Myanmar migrant Doy Sen outside his home for the past three years.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
A full range of basic health services are supplied at the health post in Ban Huay San by IOM-trained community health worker Sirichai Ratkhetbanpoot. © Mikel Flamm 2013
Knowledge of how to protect remote communities from TB is a very important feature of community health work, says Pra Tom, a Thai government health programme manager.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
IOM-trained community health worker Sirichai Ratkhetbanpoot gives villagers in the Ban Huay San, on the border with Myanmar, a lesson in TB recognition, prevention and treatment at the local health post.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
Wirasat Kornapa, 33, who suffers from cancer and TB, is regularly visited by the IOM-trained community health worker in his remote mountain village.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
A local community health worker can bring vital skills into the community, and ensure people with chronic illnesses are monitored and cared for.  © Mikel Flamm 2013
IOM-trained community health worker Sirichai Ratkhetbanpoot with Wirasat Kornapa, 33, who suffers from cancer and TB, and his mother, O, who has high blood pressure.   © Mikel Flamm 2013
Wirasat Kornapa, 33, who suffers from cancer and TB, and his mother, O, who has high blood pressure outside their house in the remote village of Ban Huay San. © Mikel Flamm 2013 Flamm)