Dr Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, former director of Tu Du Hospital in HCM City and pioneer of the in vitro fertilisation technique in Viet Nam, talks with Ha Nguyen about her passion for enriching lives.
Inner Sanctum: It's very difficult to schedule time to meet you, as your working schedule is often full even though you have retired.
Many women who want to have children need me, particularly those in remote and isolated areas. Sadly, I have seen many women give birth to children with disabilities, most of them caused by orange dioxin sprayed by the US during the war in Viet Nam.
I'm an activist for HCM City's Poor Patient Protection and Agent Orange associations. I always try my best to work for justice for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims.
Inner Sanctum: How do you feel bringing limitless happiness for childless couples while also witnessing the misery of mothers giving birth to deformed children?
Yes, I often have to face such contradictory feelings. For those women who struggle to give birth to a child, I have to try my best to help them and find out why they are childless. I know that there have been many successful in vitro fertilisation cases in the world so I decided to learn the technique and apply it in Viet Nam.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about the rumour that using ultrasound scans early in pregnancy can weed out deformities?
I would advise the mother of a heavily deformed child to abort it because it would not survive. But when children display light deformities of the legs or hands, I advise mothers to keep them.
Over the past 15 years, I have trained many nurses and rehabilitation experts to help those deformed children live normal lives.
I research every case very carefully before advising the mother. As a result, almost all pregnant women follow my counseling.
Inner Sanctum: Did you have to face any opposition when introducing in vitro fertilisation methods to Viet Nam?
Over the past 20 years, Viet Nam was still very poor. While the country implemented family planning efforts, I brought my treatment to childless women. I thought I would not get much support from the Health Ministry and colleagues but fortunately they were very supportive.
Inner Sanctum: You have trained a younger medical team in the technique. Are you pleased with their prowess?
I'm very pleased with the young medical team. Members include in vitro experts that have received significant acclaim in the region and the world. They have been invited to join world scientific seminars and forums and be trained in many countries such as the US.
Many of the Vietnamese experts' reports have been printed in international health magazines. Meanwhile, a number of countries such as Thailand have sent experts to help Viet Nam train medical workers in the technique.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about the job?
When I was a little girl, I thought a doctor only needed a stethoscope. But after growing up and embarking on a medical career, I saw that being a doctor means working very hard and investing in expensive equipment. Even though my equipment is very expensive, I still do my duty to take care of poor patients in remote and isolated areas.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about unexplainable problems in healthcare and rehabilitation? Sometimes patients are sent home by hospitals because their ailments are too hard to treat.
I always treat patients based on scientific research. But there are some problems that I can't explain. For example, I treated a childless woman with a good egg, good embryo and good foetus who still failed to give birth to a child, while another woman who did not have as good conditions as her counterpart succeeded.
There are many problems that science can't explain yet, so I often advise my patients, particularly childless women, to be patient and co-operate effectively with doctors.
Inner Sanctum: What is your biggest success with the new method in Viet Nam?
The first three test-tube babies successfully came into being on April 30, 1998. I have also finished a dozen research projects studying the effect of chemical dioxin on women's health and early discovery of uterine diseases as well as many other related health issues. — VNS