Laos, partners launch a cash transfer pilot project to improve maternal and child welfare

The Mother and Early Childhood Grant (MECG) is part of a joint initiative between UNICEF, ILO and UNCDF aimed at improving access to health and child protection services in the Lao PDR for pregnant women and children.

(KPL) The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare (MoLSW), together with development partners on Jun 18 officially launched the Mother and Early Childhood Grant (MECG) pilot project that will benefit at least 1,400 children under 12 months in Sanamxay and Nong districts, in Attapeu and Savannakhet respectively.

The MECG is an integrated cash transfer pilot aimed at providing cash transfers to pregnant women and children under 12 months of age to improve the uptake of vaccinations and their access to antenatal and postnatal care, appropriate nutrition and child protection services, including birth registration.

Beneficiaries of the initiative will directly receive a monthly benefit of LAK 150,000, made in bi-monthly payments of LAK 300,000 via u-money, an electronic payment system provided by Star Fintech, a subsidiary of Unitel.

The process also relies on a computerized Management Information System (MIS) to ensure accurate targeting and timely cash payments.

The MECG pilot will be implemented in all the villages Nong and Sanamxay districts. Through health worker outreach services and routine visits by local government institutions, such as the village Lao Women’s Union (VLWU) and the Child Protection Network (CPN), the beneficiaries will be encouraged to access services that will ensure good use of the cash provided under this project.

“The government of the Lao PDR recognizes the role that social protection plays in reducing poverty, inequalities, promoting socio-economic development and social cohesion. The MECG will act as a model for social protection provision to test in preparation for scale-up in the future. The programme will benefit not only children, but the spillover effect will reach their families, communities, and the entire country,” stated Vice Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Padeumphone Sonthany.

The MECG pilot is part of the United Nation’s Joint-Programme (UNJP) entitled “Leaving no one behind: Establishing the basis for social protection floors in the Lao PDR”, a joint initiative between UNICEF, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).

The UNJP is aimed at strengthening the Government of Lao PDR’s capacity for planning, managing and implementing the National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) signed in early 2021, which is a roadmap for the development of the social protection system, under which the MECG is the main project within this strategy.

“I am most impressed by the dedication of the MoLSW, the technical team responsible for the design of the pilot, and the technical working group on social protection, provincial, district and village level implementation units,” stated Ms. Beate Dastel, UNICEF Representative a.i. to the Lao PDR. “I would also like to acknowledge the tenacity of health workers who have enthusiastically registered pregnant women and children, even with the ongoing COVID prevention activities in the country,” she added.

The programme is funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Joint SDG Funds on Social Protection, with MoLSW leading and coordinating its implementation at both the national and sub-national levels, with technical support from UNICEF Lao PDR.

Source: Lao News Agency