HÀ NỘI — Heading north from HCM City, a van carrying the Vietnamese doctors arrived at the border gate with Cambodia.
But that was far from their final destination.
A Vietnamese doctor examines a Lao patient. — VNA/VNS Photo Đinh Hằng
The doctors then continued their trip across Cambodia to the south of Laos, a 1000-km journey taking them to the border district of Tha Teng.
Their patients knew they were coming, and were eagerly awaiting their arrival.
A makeshift hospital was quickly set up in the middle of a factory owned by a Vietnamese company. Tables were lined up for registration, general diagnosis, ultrasound and other medical treatments that may be common to many, but rare to this particular group of patients.
Hundreds of Lao residents started flooding into the makeshift hospital.
Aided by health staff at the Tha Teng Medical Centre, the doctors got down to business.
The trip was the third in three for doctors of HCM City Young Doctors Association to Laos. Their destination this year was Tha Teng District in the Sekong Province which was adjacent to the central part of Viet Nam.
Tha Teng was a typical border community where farming was the main way of life for most of the residents.
The modern world seemed a million miles away, so too was healthcare.
Doctor Lê Hồng Tuấn, head of District 2 Hospital’s Department of Cardiology, has been on all three volunteering trips. He recognised the similarity in the disease pattern between the Lao patients in remote areas and the Vietnamese back in the 80s.
“Poor nutrition and hard labour tend to leave them with bone and muscle pain, eye pain, dermatological diseases or intestinal and respiratory problems,” he said.
Methao Vifon, 70, lived some 25km away from the district centre where the makeshift hospital was set up. She woke up earlier at 5 am on the health check day and went with her son.
“I was very happy when heard Vietnamese doctors were coming over,” she said.
“They are very good doctors, their medicine work better than the herbs on the mountain.”
Another elderly patient, 76-year-old veteran Kham Biem, was thankful that he was examined by Vietnamese doctors. His only regret was that his wife could not come to the hospital.
“The local authorities said that only one person in each family can come so my wife let me go,” he said.
“I hope Vietnamese doctors come here several times so that Lao people can have more free health checks.”
The doctors were doing their very best to help the poor patients, but there were things beyond their capability.
A man drove his 77-year-old father on an agrimotor from their house which was 15km away. He was so weak he struggled to climb out of the vehicle.
Doctor Trần Quang Châu went to examine the old man, said revealed he suffered from diabetes and tuberculosis, which were worsened by poor nutrition that gradually eroded his health.
“We could not do anything for him but only suggesting his family take him to a hospital,” Châu said. “It seems unfeasible though considering the family’s economic status.”
Doctor Diêu Hà Nam said many patients had very serious illnesses but could not find adequate healthcare services.
He said: “They were in so much pain but our time here was limited while the medicine and the medical equipment were not sufficient to cure their diseases. Looking at their eyes beaming with hope, I just couldn’t stop that sour feeling overwhelming my heart.”
Khuonmixay company director Nguyễn Văn Việt, one of the biggest sponsors for the charity trips, said that the lives of Lao people along the borderline were extremely difficult.
“They have very little chance to gain access to healthcare services. There are those to whom healthcare is not a priority as they can’t even have three meals a day let alone coming to the hospital,” Việt said.
Lao people were particularly fond of Vietnamese doctors whom they believed were very skillful, he added. It was also the reason why Việt decided to provide financial support to bring the doctors to Laos over the last three years.
“It is my company’s social responsibility to help Lao people approach the best possible medical services,” he said. — VNS