On August 30th, 2019, Timor-Leste celebrated the 20th anniversary of the referendum vote that would lead to Timorese independence from Indonesia. Over the next few months we’ll be sharing stories from some of our staff who lived through both the period of occupation, the referendum, and the subsequent establishment of Timor-Leste as an independent nation.
Health Alliance International (HAI) joins with the Timorese people in celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Timor-Leste’s independence referendum. HAI began activities in East Timor, now Timor-Leste, in early 1999, when we supported the delivery of maternal care services at Motael Clinic, and later at Bairo Pite Clinic. We also helped organize a delegation of Physicians for Human Rights in mid-1999 that documented the country’s human rights and health issues. Our work was interrupted for a time when HAI staff were deported to Australia by the Indonesian military, prior to the vote. When peace returned, at the suggestion of Dr. Rui de Araujo, who later became the first Minister of Health, we assisted the Salesian Sisters of Venilale to establish a village health worker component to their services.
HAI’s approach in all of the countries where we work is to support national health care programs. Since full independence in 2002, HAI has worked closely with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health (MOH) in its successful efforts to develop an equitable and effective health care system. Today our work continues to focus on strengthening the MOH’s maternal, newborn and child health services. HAI projects in Timor-Leste have included: training and supervision of MOH midwives; community health promotion in maternal and newborn care and family planning; a system of skills labs for midwives at their health unit workplaces; an mHealth program that connects pregnant women with their midwives; a program for practical, skills-based training of midwives and doctors in obstetric and newborn emergency care; and the development of locally-relevant maternal, newborn, and child health educational materials. Many of these initiatives are now being carried out nationally in collaboration with the MOH.
At the time of independence, Timor-Leste had some of the worst maternal and child health outcomes in the Southeast Asian region. Twenty years later, with determined, skilled leadership of the MOH, those figures have improved dramatically. Maternal mortality dropped from an estimated 600 per 100,000 births in 2004 to 195 at the last national survey in 2016. Infant deaths also decreased from 60 per 1000 live births in 2004 to 30 in 2016. HAI is proud to have worked collaboratively with the MOH in achieving these gains, and hopes to work with national efforts to continue that progress in the future.