Carol Perks: My Maternal Health Hero

Post by ​Kristyn Zalota, Founder

I want to tell you about Carol Perks, an Australian nurse who has transformed maternal and child healthcare in northern Laos. She has inspired my maternal heath work in Laos and shown me the importance of generously sharing knowledge.

The Encouragement I Needed

When I started, my maternal-infant health project in southern Laos, some said, “Are you qualified to do that? You’re not a midwife” or “Can Clean Birth Kits have a real impact?”

Carol Perks, a true expert in this field, never asked me those questions. Her first words to me via email were:

Good to hear from you and congratulations on trying to help the situation for women and children in Salavan. I’d be happy to help you in any way that I can…

Into the Unknown

When Carol arrived in Sayaboury Province in 1991, on a 2-year Save the Children contract, there were no other foreigners, “virtually no transport, no electricity, no water.” In this video, she explains with a laugh, Sayaboury was “very wild in those days.”


The health situation was dire: the infant and maternal mortality rate were abysmal, with only 18% of women receiving antenatal care and just 7% having a skilled attendant at their births.

Family planning in Sayaboury Province was limited to theeating of elephant placenta.”

Twenty Years of Hard Work

Carol’s planned two years turned into more than twenty. During this time, she worked with district and provincial officials to develop a comprehensive model for providing healthcare in rural communities, with a strong focus on maternal and child health.

The model mandates building clinics, renovating hospitals, training health staff and volunteers, improving water and sanitation and more. Importantly, with technical assistance from Save the Children, the Lao government implements and manages their own health departments.

By 2007, all districts of Sayaboury Province had successfully implemented the model. So, Carol and Save the Children moved on to neighboring Luang Prabang Province.

Within 3 years, in one Distrtict, they had achieved Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.

Carol’s Legacy

Carol retired in 2013. Yet, her work continues in Laos’ north and will inspire my own in the south. She has shown me what one woman can do to improve maternal and infant health.

IMG_0121She also showed me how to support other women. Even when my organization was in its infancy, she honored the work I was doing. She took time out of her demanding days to answer my questions and share best practices. That meant so much to me and I will try to emulate her example when others seek my help.

Thank you Carol Perks for your work in Laos and for your generosity of spirit!

Your Turn

Who is the woman that most inspires you to work harder and be better? Post a shout out to your hero below and share with a tweet using #WomenInspire.

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Category: Health    Sheroes
Tagged with: #WomenInspire    Child health    infant health    Laos    Maternal Health    MDG5    Newborns