This volunteer profile highlights the role UK health professionals are making in rural Cambodia and how the UK is benefiting too.

In the court yard of a local shop in the sleepy village of Samlout mothers and their children gather around a Durian Tree waiting to receive a check-up from local health workers and UK health professional volunteers. Some are being weighed in laundry baskets, others have a tape measure wrapped round their arms, others fidget uncomfortably as their height is recorded, and many are keen to try out hand washing using the ingenious tippy-tap. The Baby Friendly Community Initiative is just one of the projects run by the Health Partnership between Improving Global Health in the UK and the Maddox-Jolie-Pitt Foundation in Cambodia, helping to support a government initiative that was put in place a few years ago.

Ellie Jordan is a paediatric junior doctor and one of the volunteers working with local Cambodian health workers to improve training, patient care, and develop leadership skills.

‘The Baby Friendly Community Initiative is about getting model mothers or village role models to set up mother and baby groups with the aim of being portals for education of mothers about things like breastfeeding, complementary feeding, vaccinations, hygiene and sanitation messages. And also as a way to monitor the babies and the children within the villages, so looking at weights and their mid-upper arm circumference particularly, looking at any malnutrition within the population.’

Rural areas of Cambodia suffer from many health problems, many associated with poverty and low education levels. Problems such as preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, infectious diseases, and increasingly common non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer.  

During this particular session, Ellie is working with two other UK volunteers and three local health professionals. They are working in partnership as part of a larger project aimed at improving a wide range of health and environmental problems. The partnership is taking a holistic approach to public health care and tackling areas such as breastfeeding, adequate complementary feeding, hygiene and sanitation, vaccinations, and household air pollution. All with an aim to improving the overall health and wellbeing of babies and children.

‘I’m focusing on schools, so we’re running education sessions in the schools with UV gel to demonstrate good hand washing. We’re also running a banner competition, inviting the kids to get creative and design hand washing logos and slogans that we’re going to turn into banners and use as community adverts, so the children in the school are then designing health promotion messages for their community. It’s all to do with community ownership and sustainability.’