By Vanessa Kellenberger, Volunteer from Switzerland
For TLC it’s all about identifying problems early and preventing serious illness. One of the best ways to do this is to engage people in looking after their own health. That’s why every six months we visit floating schools in each of our villages and spend time teaching children about simple things like hand washing and dental hygiene. We also carry out comprehensive school health checks for each student and refer children to our clinics if we pick up any problems. What do we see the most? Unfortunately the most common problems are easily preventable – parasite infections, decayed teeth and poor nutrition.
Our school health check
Carrying out the school health check is quite a logistical challenge and involves lots of different team members. We set up stations for measuring height & weight, for a dental check up, a medical check up and an eye check. On average there are 30 kids in each class and it usually takes about 2 hours for them to rotate through the different stations. Like most school students the prospect of a diversion from lessons gets the class quite excited!
First: Measuring height and weight
The first step for all students is to have their height and weight measured and recorded on their school health check card. This helps us to keep track of whether the kids are growing as much as they should, and it helps us to identify any children who are malnourished. As we’ve mentioned in other blog posts, chronic malnutrition is a huge problem for communities on the Tonlé Sap. Most people can only afford to eat two meals per day and their diets are limited to rice and a little fish with hardly any fruit and vegetables. Many families also drink water directly from the lake which often leads to diarrhoea and parasite infections that prevent children from gaining weight and growing properly.
Second: General health check
Next the children see one of TLC’s doctors. They get a full check up and we pay particular attention to checking for common problems like ear infections and scabies. Because parasite infections are almost universal due to dirty water and unhygienic living conditions, we give all children anti-parasite medicine. Each child is also given a Vitamin A supplement as this important nutrient is lacking from most diets.
Third: Eye check
Although we don’t have an eye specialist in our team, we do a basic eye test using a letter chart to identify any children with poor vision. These children can then be referred to get glasses made when an eye specialist or optometrist visit TLC.
Fourth: Dental check
Our dental nurse Molika sees the children next. She checks every child’s teeth and counts the number of caries (decayed teeth). On average the primary school children we see have at least 4 caries! However, the few kids who brush their teeth regularly are doing a very good job. If there are any loose teeth, gum infections or other issues that needs further treatments then the child is asked to come to the clinic.
Fifth: Health education
Once every child has been seen by every member of the team, we dedicate some time to talking to the class about their health. One of the simplest ways to prevent illnesses is to wash your hands before cooking or eating and after using the toilet. Our team demonstrate how to wash your hands properly using soap and clean water and the children compete to see who can get the cleanest hands. Looking after your teeth by brushing them at least twice per day can prevent painful caries but also stop gum infections that can have more serious consequences. We use a model to demonstrate the best brushing technique and each child is given a shiny new toothbrush. We ask them to bring the old toothbrush back at the next school health check and trade it in for a new one.
What we do with the results of the school health check
After every school check we give the kids a copy of their record card and ask them to discuss it with their parents. If they need any further treatment we ask them to come to our clinic with a parent or older sibling. Unfortunately, sometimes a family feels that medical treatment is not necessary but we continue visiting the schools regularly and try to convince them gradually. Our mission is to improve health on the Tonlé Sap Lake by providing medical care and health education step by step.
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