Project NamJai, which means passion and service with a heart in Laotian, was born of the idea that anybody, regardless of circumstance or ability, can make a positive difference in the lives of others if the heart chooses to. Established in 2017, Project NamJai is an interventions-based project led by students from Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS Med), which aims to address healthcare gaps within the rural community.
Laos was identified among six low- to middle-income countries (as defined by World Bank in 2015) as having unsatisfactory health and healthcare outcomes. From data collected from World Health Organisation (WHO) and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Laos performed poorly in the areas of overall life expectancy and mortality, child growth and development, maternal and child health, lung infection and cardiovascular disease amongst others.
In the short span of three years, Project NamJai has established its presence in four Laos villages – Pong Song Village, Hin Tit Village, Houay Dok Mai Village and Phon Thong Village in Hinhueb District. Project NamJai has progressed from routine health screenings to focus on sustainable health education for villagers with limited access to affordable healthcare, significantly altering their healthcare-seeking behaviours. By staying with villagers throughout their interventions and daily interactions on the ground, the team from Project NamJai established heartfelt connections with the Laotians and impacted their lives significantly.
The team also conducted extensive research, questionnaires, and interviews to understand the lifestyle of the locals and identify gaps their health knowledge and healthcare needs. In May 2018, health screenings were conducted for the locals to establish a baseline quantitative measure of their health. The team learnt that many of the locals suffer from abnormal capillary blood glucose, blood pressure and lipids level, which puts them at higher risk of Cardiovascular Disease Associated Chronic Conditions (CDACC) like diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. With the information, Project NamJai narrowed their focus to primary prevention of CDACC through education, and also improving the local healthcare system's standards and capacity with the objective to lower the risk of CDACC in the villagers.
In line with that objective, Project NamJai embarked on three main strategies during their recent trips in May and December 2019; a Smoking Cessation Programme to encourage villagers to quit smoking and live a smoke-free lifestyle, a Healthy Eating Programme to educate on healthy eating habits, and an Active Lifestyle Programme to encourage villagers to lead more active lives by incorporating fun exercises such as Zumba using upbeat Laotian folk music.
As part of promoting an active lifestyle, Project NamJai also piloted a Sports Carnival for primary school students in Hin Tit Village, with the aim of encouraging an active lifestyle amongst the young while providing a fun and practical avenue for them to apply their knowledge on health-seeking behaviours. Students were educated on the benefits of having an active lifestyle, recommended physical activity levels, as well as exercises to keep fit. From the post event surveys, the students were receptive to the educational efforts on promoting an active lifestyle, with more believing that exercise is important and beneficial to them.
For future trips, Project NamJai hopes to continue and expand efforts in promoting accurate health education in the villages. Armed with greater knowledge of healthy dieting and alternative lifestyle habits, Laotian villagers will be more empowered to take ownership of their own health and have a significantly reduced risk of developing CDACC.
Project NamJai is looking towards extending the sports carnival to other villages due to the excellent response from the children from Hin Tit Primary School. The team will be garnering support from the teachers to conduct regular physical education activities for the children, with the aim to enlighten and engage the children about keeping fit in the long run.
Another focus is on the Healthy Eating programme. From the survey conducted, the team found that majority of villagers recognise the importance of healthy eating and what constitutes a healthy diet. However, few actually act on that knowledge, with many not reducing intake of rice and foods that were fried or salty. With that in mind, the team will focus on implementing behavioural change models, instead of the current knowledge-based approach with the aim to elicit the proper health eating habits in the villagers.
Project NamJai post-trip report (Dec 2019) (PDF, 2.3MB)
How you can make a difference
Project NamJai is looking forward to their 5th Project Trip once international travel resumes. Education efforts in the area of cardiovascular disease prevention are currently under way. In addition, many strong collaborations were forged and established in preparation for the 5th Project Trip.
Your generous support would be a stamp of approval that would motivate the team and enable them to continuously improve the lives of Laotians.