According to the results of a survey presented at the third annual Journées de Nakai scientific meeting on June 28, public health indicators in the resettled population demonstrate marked improvements in a number of areas, including reduced infant and under-five mortality, declining parasitic infestations, and better nutritional status among young children.
The two-day meeting, jointly hosted by the Ministry of Health, Institut Pasteur Laos, and the Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC), brought together Lao and international medical doctors and scientists in various fields, including ethnology, nutrition, entomology, parasitology and agro-economics. The partnership between the various organisations and scientists started in 2007 prior to the impoundment of the Nakai Reservoir, created for the Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric facility, which started generating electricity in March this year. The partnership follows the health status of over 6,300 villagers who moved to new purpose-built villages on the shore of the reservoir.
Various reasons were presented to explain the improved health of the population. NTPC has built two clinics on Nakai and renovated the district hospital in Oudomsouk. In addition, it works with the district health service to bring new skills, equipment and working practices to the public health sector. Health and nutrition education is given to villagers, and vitally, the resettlement villages have clean water supply and latrines, which were absent before the Nam Theun 2 Project. The NTPC health programme received a ‘Sustainable Development Trophy’ in a worldwide competition organised Electricité de France in early June this year, in recognition of the progress made.
According to Marcel Frederick, NTPC’s Nakai Resettlement Manager, food supply and living conditions have also improved on Nakai since resettlement, with annual rice shortage periods greatly reduced and consumption of protein rising. Meanwhile Institut Pasteur Laos has been working with the Ministry of Health to provide additional technical expertise in infectious diseases, helping the partnership to monitor and control parasite infections and vector-borne diseases.
The meeting also discussed wider issues to arise from the health work on Nakai, including ethical considerations in public health research programmes and the role of traditional therapeutic practices in Lao culture. Dr Phasouk Khammanithong, Deputy Chief of Khammouane Provincial Health Office, placed special emphasis on ownership and sustainability in the programme, saying that local doctors and health workers needed to take on full responsibility for the structures set up by NTPC to ensure that the progress made could be sustained and expanded to build on the initial successes.
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The Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC) is the developer and operator of the Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Project in the Lao PDR. The Project is a public-private partnership designed to generate electricity for export to Thailand and domestic use in Laos. Revenues accruing to the Lao government during NTPC's concession period, estimated at over US$2 billion, are to be used to fund poverty alleviation in the country. Nam Theun 2 is structured as an industrial and a development Project, placing great emphasis on protection of the environment and sustainable social programmes to improve the livelihoods of people in the Project area. After 25 years of operation from 2010, the Project will be transferred to the Lao State. See www.namtheun2.com.