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Lorentina Amaral, Timor‑Leste

I now know I can get fortified food for my son from the nearest health center

Lorentina Amaral lives on top of a hill, with her husband, three children and extended family. The house isn't easy to reach by car; the best and safest way is to walk. But thanks to Timor Leste’s efforts to achieve universal health coverage, this is no impediment to visiting healthcare workers.

”My third son was born healthy. He weighed a good 3 kg at birth. But the problems started when he was six months old. He developed fever and symptoms like diarrhoea,” explains Lorentina.

By the time her son Interfenia was three years old, the child had weighed a mere 15 kg, only two-thirds the average weight of a normal toddler his age. Lorentina tried all the local remedies she could think of, but his condition did not improve.

“I didn't know what to make of it until a doctor, a nurse and a midwife from Saúde na Familía came to my house. They explained to me that Interfenia is malnourished and the things I need to be careful about.”

I didn’t know what to make of it until a doctor, a nurse and a midwife from Saúde na Familía came to my house. They explained to me that Interfenia is malnourished and the things I need to be careful about.

Since the country gained independence in 2002, Timor-Leste has totally rebuilt its health system. From the start, leaving no one behind in accessing quality health services has been a core concern of the Ministry of Health and the country’s high-level political leadership.

Lorentina’s family is one of many that has benefitted from the Ministry of Health’s Saúde na Familía – or ‘health in the family’ – programme. Since 2015, the programme has seen health workers spread out across the country to bring health services to people’s homes.

From high up in the mountains to down on the plains, medical teams collect families’ health data and enter it into a database. So when children like Interfenia fall sick, their data is already in the system. This allows the community health centre, municipal managers and national authorities know what they are dealing with. If needed, the family member is referred to a hospital or a rehabilitation centre that offer more specialized health services. The budget for the programme’s interventions is based on the needs of the communities.

Ever since I have been associated with this programme, I have learned so much more about the problems that communities in rural areas face. I have a better understanding of our people, their problems and needs.

“In 2014, we identified strengthening human resources for health as a key tool for achieving universal health coverage,” says Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Director for the WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia.

The ‘health in the family’ programme helps retain health workers in rural areas, enhance their healthcare skills and expand the range of health services offered to meet the diverse needs of Timor-Leste’s people.

“Ever since I have been associated with this programme,” says Dr Augusta da Costa, a General Practitioner at the Baucau Community Health Center, “I have learned so much more about the problems that communities in rural areas face. I have a better understanding of our people, their problems and needs.”

Lorentina could not agree more. One of the programme’s home visits has transformed her life. “I now know I can get fortified food for my son from the nearest health center,” she says. Interfenia is healthy and thriving as her other two children. If he had been left behind, he would not be. The programme has been key to the survival of her youngest child.

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