Canada Funds New Medical Equipment for Treating Jaundice in Newborns in Laos

Canada Funds New Equipment for Treating Jaundice in Lao Newborns
Canadians and Lao health professionals pose for a photo holding the "Thanks to the Canada Funds for Local initiatives" banner

The Government of Canada recently provided financial aid for the purchase of new equipment to help treat jaundice among newborns at the Lao Friends Hospital for Children in Luang Prabang.

Newborns are at particular risk of developing jaundice, which can cause serious brain damage leading to cerebral paresis, severe developmental delay, and epilepsy. “Canada is delighted to be working with Lao medical professionals to enable a healthier future for the safety of new-borns at risk”, said Ambassador Sarah Taylor.

In the past, jaundice was diagnosed by checking bilirubin levels through regular blood sampling, which can cause long-term harm to newborns. This Canadian support included purchasing a transcutaneous bilirubin monitor, a small handheld tool that is placed against an infant’s head and which non-invasively inspects the child’s blood. For those newborn children diagnosed with jaundice, past treatment was done with blue light lamps put above an uncomfortably uncovered baby.

Now, these babies can be enveloped in “bili-blankets”, which act like a light cocoon, with blue light emitting phototherapy treatment woven into a soothing fabric blanket. With the bili-blankets, babies can be treated in the “Kangaroo Care” position, which brings them into physical contact with caregivers and has been shown to reduce neonatal mortality and improve long-term outcomes in preterm babies. Canadian support is also helping fund training on this new equipment.

The Neonatal Nurse Educator at Lao Friends Hospital for Children, Canadian Giselle Morean, explained that: “Do no harm is a very important statement in the medical profession. It implies not inflicting harm intentionally. Implementing these new practices allows us to abide by this central principle of medical practice by decreasing the risks of daily blood tests and improving the quality of patient care.”

Canadian Chargé d’Affaires Bob Paquin visited Lao Friends Hospital for Children last month to see the new equipment in use and was overjoyed to learn that the donation is already helping families. During his visit, Mr. Paquin met a young father and his newborn. The baby, who had been diagnosed with high bilirubin levels, was swaddled in a bili-blanket and lovingly held against his chest. The new equipment allowed for early and safe diagnosis and encouraged the father to interact with his child, which is expected to improve the infant’s long-term health outcomes.

Lao Friends Hospital for Children is the only free pediatric hospital in the northern region of Laos and operates a 37-bed hospital with a surgical suite, 24-bed neonatal unit, ER, laboratory, pharmacy, and an outreach program. Nearly 150,000 children in need have received free medical treatment through the hospital since operations began in 2015.

Canadian support for Lao Friends Hospital for Children was provided through the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI). The CFLI is a program designed to support small-scale, high-impact projects. It is directed at projects conceived and designed predominantly by local partners. In 2018, a CFLI grant also supported the first dedicated facility providing specialized care to children with developmental disabilities in Luang Prabang through the Lao Friends Hospital for Children. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada also supported health care in Laos by donating USD 3.2 million worth of high-grade protective equipment to the Ministry of Health, and USD 150,000 to Institute Pasteur du Laos to purchase diagnostic equipment, personal protective equipment, and testing supplies.