Dirce says: “I believe my country still needs to improve our community knowledge on child health issues. Newborn care is very important, but we also need to focus on a child’s health from pregnancy right until they reach five years of age, as this period is when children are most vulnerable.”
Currently, only one in four Timorese children are vaccinated against common childhood diseases, which means there is no herd immunity in local communities. It is difficult to imagine but diseases like polio, unheard of in Australia due to almost universal vaccination coverage, are still life-threatening to children in Timor. An important part of ChildFund’s work is collaborating with the Department of Health to increase vaccination coverage rates among children aged 0-5 years.
ChildFund Timor-Leste is also working closely with the government to ensure that health workers have the proper training and skills needed to ensure newborns have the best chance in life. “For example, some of the healthcare staff we have trained can now identify respiratory issues with newborns, so this is really important and could mean lives are saved.”
For Dirce, education and training is key to saving lives. “I was recently thanked by a father whose child was diagnosed with malnutrition. With the family given information on what types of food to prepare, the child has now completely recovered.
“And every day I see more and more mothers bringing their children to health facilities – not because the children are sick, but to have their health monitored and to get advice. That makes my job so rewarding.”
ChildFund Timor-Leste’s maternal and child health programs are supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).