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Dedicated doctor works wonders

Update: March, 20/2012 - 09:29

 

Demystifying medicine: Dr Nguyen CongHuan, right, director of the Lai Chau Province's Health Department, was awarded the title "People's Physician" on Viet Nam Physicians' Day for his work in healing the sick in the mountainous province. — VNS PhotosViet Hoang
Saying no to superstition: Dr Huan checks the records at a medical station in remote LaiChau province.
Dr Nguyen Cong Huan has devoted his professional life to preventative medicine and healing the sick in Lai Chau. He has received many awards for his work, but he says the biggest reward is simply to help others. Viet Hoang reports.

Among the 74 doctors conferred with the title of "People's Physician" on the occasion of Viet Nam Physicians's Day (February 27) is Nguyen Cong Huan, director of the Lai Chau Province's Health Department.

Since 1975, the 58-year-old has been tied to this area. It was then that Huan left his hometown of Thai Binh Province for Lai Chau to reunite with his father, a worker of Nam Rom irrigation system. He desired to be a doctor with hopes of treating the local people he met there. After graduating from Lai Chau Medical School in 1978, he volunteered to work as a physician at Phong Tho District's Si Lo Lau Commune. At that time, poor people had particularly difficult situations and often suffered from epidemic diseases. The young man would climb mountains, cross streams and walk two or three days to examine, treat, and teach hygiene to the people. "The love of local people helped me have more will," he explained as the reason for choosing such hard work.

Huan was eventually offered the position of deputy director of goitre prevention when the Government introduced a national goitre prevention programme in 1990s. At that time, 58 per cent of people with goitres were living in Lai Chau. With a goal of decreasing this rate, Huan and his colleagues brought forward their suggestions and implemented their plans.

Upon discovering the link between the small number of children born with cretinism and a lack of iodised salt, they started going to remote communes to examine and treat these cases. They targeted a quick reduction of goitres and a raised awareness about how to prevent this disease. After four years of execution, the goitre rate in Lai Chau significantly fell by 30 per cent. No more babies were born with intellectual disabilities due to an iodine deficiency.

When the Government approved a programme aimed at leprosy prevention in 1994, Huan started a new mission – director of the provincial Leprosy and Dermatology Prevention Centre. The rate of leprosy in Lai Chau was 6.5 patients/10,000 inhabitants, 60 per cent of them lived with the high grade-2 disabilities which caused visible damage (claw hand, foot drop, reabsorption of finger or toes) and visual impairment. Once again, he directly visited every family in the communes to survey the number of patients and instruct them in how to prevent the disease. Huan's efforts combined with the other medical workers in the centre helped decrease the rate of patients with grade-2 disabilities to below 20 per cent in 1999. "Thankfully perceptions about leprosy in the community have changed. Local people do not fear leprosy, they do not shun or discriminate against patients. Leprosy patients are treated equally and closely," he said.

Wherever Huan worked, he created great improvements in lives of local people. Every time a job finished, he was assigned another. In 1999, he became the principal of the Lai Chau Medical School.

Huan then was transferred to manage the provincial Health Department. At that time, there was a critical shortage of health workers in the region, while facilities and medical equipment were outdated. Under these difficult circumstances, the director brought forward breakthrough changes, such as a project of human resources training and a plan to strengthen the network of medical stations. At the same time, he used funds to build up provincial hospitals and procure medical equipment.

According to Huan, thanks to good health care and communication, the worshipping of ghosts and doing voodoo have decreased as methods of treatment in recent years. "It is not as simple as some think. Improving health in Lai Chau is more difficult than building a house. But I believe in my wake will be a fertile ground for development."

When sharing his story with us, he continually steered away from his personal achievements and instead highlighted his medical staff at the commune who have quietly cared for local people. To Huan, they are true "doctors as gentle as mothers".

Spending nearly a lifetime devoted to the healthcare of people in remote lands, he has received several awards and medals from the Government. However, Huan believes that his real rewards and happiness come from the patients who can live healthier lives. — VNS

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