Our first recce trip in August 2017 comprised of a 4-man team – the founding directors of the project – and was mainly targeted at finding out more about the working conditions in Laos. This compassed establishing a partnership with our local coordinator, Mr Peter. Through him we managed to contact various other important stakeholders such as the World Health Organisation in Laos, the Singapore Embassy in Laos, and the University of Health Sciences, the only medical school in the whole of Laos. The team also visited various villages to observe the conditions on the ground, and to befriend the local community. Ultimately, Recce Trip 1 in August 2017 laid the ground work for research and possible interventions to be conducted in future trips.
Project NamJai progressed on to plan a second Recce Trip, this time with the goal of data collection to decide on our area of focus. Under the guidance of our mentor from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, the team crafted a Focused Group Discussion (FDG) questionnaire on a few prominent health issues that seemed to be of relevance in the Laos from the available literature. Literature regarding Laotian health is scarce, and hence the need to conduct our own primary research to gather data that is both specific to our issues of interest and specific to our villages of interest. With that in mind, a team of about 10 people set off for our second recce trip in December 2017. We found various interesting health issues that villagers face, from musculo-skeletal problems to reproductive health issues. However, the elephant in the room was Cardiovascular Disease Associated Chronic Conditions (CDACC) and the lack of proper sanitation and hand hygiene which could predispose one to gastrointestinal abnormalities such as diarrhoea and vomiting.
With these information, Project NamJai was able to make a case for intervening in these areas to both our Singaporean and Laotian partners. Preliminary interventions were planned for use in our 4 target villages – Pong Song, Hin Tit, Huai Dok Mai and Phon Thong of Hinherb District, Vientiane Province. However, before we were to implement these interventions, we had to carry out baseline surveillance so that the efficacy of these interventions can be measure in the future. This required the collection of quantitative data. Therefore, in our first project trip in May 2018, we measured the fasting Capillary Blood Glucose (CBG), Capillary Blood Lipid (CBL), and blood pressure of villagers to gather baseline data on CDACC. The team also collected data on self-reported hand hygiene practices of children as baseline data for our Water, Sanitation and Hand Hygiene (WASH) programme. After the baseline data was collected, the preliminary interventions were carried out and its efficacy would be revealed in subsequent trips.
We embarked on our 2nd Project Trip in December 2018. For the interventions side, we went to Laos with the intention to educate the local population on cardiovascular disease associated chronic conditions (CDACC), begin our smoking cessation efforts. We also evaluate the effectiveness of what we have accomplished for WASH and health screening in May '18. On top of building upon what we have done, we also aim to further evaluate and study a few areas where we wish to expand into and tackle, namely women’s health, diarrhoea and evaluate if we should delve deeper into paediatric dental issues. On top of working in the villages, we went to our partners in Laos, such as WHO, Singapore Embassy, UHS and the various healthcare facilities to discuss greater means of collaboration and partnership.
Following our December trip, we recognise many areas of improvement. One example is that many smokers have attempted to quit smoking but were unaware of how to do so. Hence we introduced a smoking cessation programme, so that smokers who wish to quit will be empowered with the knowledge to do so. We also interviewed villagers who went to our health screening and referred to understand the difficulties and barriers to healthcare. We also targetted CDACC extensively, educating the villagers importance of healthy diet and exercise.