Foreign NGOs Deliver High-Quality Healthcare to the People of Vietnam

Healthcare is one of the sectors that receives significant support from foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Vietnam. These NGOs play a crucial role in providing free medical examinations, treatments, and surgeries to the local population. Additionally, they donate essential medical equipment and offer training programs to Vietnamese doctors, enabling them to enhance their skills and knowledge. Through their contributions, these foreign NGOs have had a positive impact on the community, ensuring that many Vietnamese people have access to quality healthcare services and the opportunity to lead healthy lives.

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Restoring Sight for the Blind

In 1992, Australian professor and ophthalmologist Fred Hollows visited Vietnam to assess the country’s treatment of cataracts. Upon seeing that Vietnamese doctors lacked the necessary equipment and access to modern cataract surgery techniques, he made a promise to return within the next three months to conduct training courses and enhance the skills of Vietnamese doctors.

In June of the same year, Hollows was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor that required urgent surgery. Despite not being fully recovered just two months after the operation, he assembled a group of leading surgeons and ophthalmologists from Australia and Nepal to visit Vietnam. They installed equipment and improved the operating room at the Central Eye Hospital in Hanoi, and organized a training course for 10 Vietnamese doctors.

Doctors from Ha Giang Provincial Eye Hospital examining local people’s eyes during a survey on trachoma in the community. (Photo: Fred Hollows Foundation)

The Fred Hollows Foundation (FHF) was established by doctor Fred Hollows and his wife, Gabrielle Hollows shortly before his death in 1993. FHF aims to fulfill its mission of preventing blindness, training doctors, and providing eye care support for the Vietnamese people. FHF has carried out numerous collaborative projects with ministries, departments, branches, universities, and medical facilities to train doctors, nurses, and technicians. It has provided financial and equipment sponsorships for district-level eye examination and treatment facilities as well as disadvantaged localities. Additionally, FHF performs screenings, detections, treatments, and free surgeries for many patients with eye diseases. It plays a crucial role in raising awareness about eye care. Since 1992, FHF has supported the training of over 1,000 eye surgeons, provided medical equipment, and supported more than 100,000 cataract surgeries.

Professor Ton Thi Kim Thanh, former Director of the Central Eye Hospital and a student of doctor Fred Hollows, regards FHF’s training program as “a great success, playing an important role in preventing blindness in Vietnam.”

“Thanks to the program, hundreds of thousands of blind people in Vietnam have regained their sight, as Fred promised before his death,” she said.

Bringing Smiles to Children

Every year, Vietnam sees over 5,000 children born with craniofacial deformities. These deformities hinder the child’s function, daily life, and psychology. However, the surgery and treatment of craniofacial defects is still a major challenge for Vietnamese surgeons.

According to Lieutenant General Mai Hong Bang, former Director of Central Military Hospital 108, treating patients with craniofacial defects requires a team of specialized doctors in various fields including plastic surgery, maxillofacial surgery, neurosurgery, ENT, maxillofacial surgery, eye surgery, rehabilitation, and advanced medical equipment. The high cost of craniofacial surgery often leaves many patients in financial distress, unable to afford the necessary treatments.

Dr. Christopher Forrest from Toronto Children’s Hospital (Canada) and a group of doctors at the Center for Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery, Central Military Hospital 108 examining a patient in November 2019 (Photo: FTW).

In 2016, Central Military Hospital 108 was introduced to Facing the World (UK). With the sponsorship of Facing the World, the Center for Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery, Central Military Hospital 108 was established in 2018. Over the years, the Center has performed more than 2,000 operations, successfully treating many children in difficult circumstances. With two remote medical examination and treatment platforms and 26 doctors trained under Facing the World’s program, it is projected that the Center will connect with and provide treatment for 60% of children with congenital craniofacial defects in Vietnam after 8 years of operation.

Facing the World, an organization founded in the UK in 2002 to assist children with maxillofacial deformities in developing countries, initially supported Vietnamese children with complex craniofacial deformities by sending them to the UK for treatment. They fully sponsored the trips, which cost between 0.5 to 1 million pounds per child. Since 2008, FTW has been bringing foreign doctors to Vietnam to collaborate with Vietnamese doctors in performing surgical procedures.

The patient was operated on by leading cardiovascular experts and doctors at Vinh Duc General Hospital. Photo: H.D

The organization also supports sending Vietnamese doctors abroad for training. To date, more than 100 doctors at FTW’s partner hospitals in Vietnam have been sent for training at hospitals in the UK, US, Canada, and Australia for 2-6 weeks, at an average cost of about 11,000 pounds per 2-week period. FTW also organizes professional seminars and develops remote examination, consultation, and treatment methods. They have donated remote medical examination and treatment equipment and technology worth a total of 2.4 million pounds to surgical centers in Vietnam.

​Supporting Healthy Hearts

Vo Thi Kim Tien, born in 2000 in Quang Ngai, had a congenital heart disease that went undetected by her family until she reached the 7th grade. It was during Giving It Back To Kids’ (GIBTK) medical examinations for children in difficult circumstances in her hometown that Tien learned about her dangerous heart condition.

Thanks to GIBTK’s financial support, Tien was able to receive the necessary surgery. She spent a month at Da Nang Hospital undergoing examinations and receiving health monitoring prior to the operation. Before entering the operating room, Tien’s father signed the form with trembling hands. Although the doctor gave the surgery only a 30% chance of success, Tien’s parents remained optimistic, determined to encourage their daughter. GIBTK staff stood by Tien and her family throughout the surgery and recovery process. Ultimately, the surgery was successful, and over a year later, Tien is able to participate in sports activities without any discomfort.

Following the surgery, Tien grew up healthy. She dedicated herself to her studies and earned a scholarship to Japan. Eventually, she was invited to work for Japanese enterprises.

Vo Thi Kim Tien underwent heart surgery when she was in the 7th grade. (Photo courtesy of Tien)

Tien is just one of over 1,500 children in difficult circumstances in Vietnam who have received heart surgery support from GIBTK. Operating in Vietnam since 2002, the American organization GIBTK has contributed to improving the lives of many orphans, children in extremely difficult circumstances, the elderly, and people with disabilities in Vietnam. In addition to supporting heart surgery, GIBTK’s medical program has also assisted in over 700 orthopedic surgeries, 98 eye surgeries, and provided medical equipment and supplies for more than 2,000 underprivileged patients. Moreover, GIBTK organizes various educational programs, all of which hold significant value in nurturing the dreams of impoverished students who cannot afford to further their education.

Valerie Mai