Vietnam's 53 ethnic minority groups make up about 14% of the total population and as of 2004 over 60% of them are still very poor--many are the poorest, least healthy and least educated of the entire population. They tend to live in remote mountainous areas and often have little knowledge of basic healthcare practices, including personal hygiene.
After becoming aware of the malnourished, unhealthy state of many children among the ethnic minority population in the mountainous areas of Vietnam, Hands-On Saigon initiated an ongoing relief program, by gathering a team of qualified doctors and other volunteers to offer free medical assistance to these needy people.
Many trips have been made since the first four in 2008—each lasting a couple of days on average. The volunteer team usually consists of 4-5 doctors, 2 pharmacists and 15 assistants.
These remote areas are accessible, but often only by dirt roads that become treacherous during the rainy season. The team travels many hours by bus and then in the back of an open truck to reach these areas and bring in the needed supplies.
Each year, more than one thousand people of all ages have the opportunity to receive a doctor’s attention and in most cases, receive the free medicine they need. Participants also take home bags of nutritious food provided by donors.
The poor gather from miles around when they hear of the opportunity for a free medical exam. Young children, mothers and fathers and the elderly alike wait patiently for their turn to see the doctor.
Although there are clinics like this one scattered throughout the remote areas, there are insufficient doctors to regularly staff them and medicine is scarce.
Medical team volunteers fill out forms for patients and call out names when space becomes available inside the building to stand in line to see a doctor.
The doctors take notes as the patients explain their symptoms. Others wait in line for their turn. Several members of the same family often make the trip together as it’s a rare opportunity to see a doctor.
Doctors take time to listen and ask questions. Everyone has their hopes up and is grateful for the help.
Patients have their blood pressure taken as a routine part of the checkup.
Examinations are made to determine what treatment is needed.
Diagnoses are made, advice offered and prescriptions written.
Often the team tries to attend to patients at two clinics in one day as there is always a great demand for the doctors’ expertise.
Some of the expectant patients are happy and relaxed while others are more serious. Sometimes there’s fear or pain, but all are grateful.
These doctors and their teammates sacrificially yet joyfully donate their time and skills to help thousands of needy poor individuals in remote areas several times a year. The programs make a significant difference in the lives of many people.
In the simple and sometimes makeshift pharmacy, pharmacists prepare the prescriptions and their assistants distribute the free medicine to the waiting patients.
Poor villagers wait patiently at the open window for their medicine. Volunteer staff explains the instructions written on the prescriptions for patients who either can’t read or whose vision is poor.
Over a ton of food is donated and distributed and thousands of dollars’ worth of medicine is sponsored for each medical program.
Many of the participants receive free haircuts, personal hygiene education and grooming.
And part of the mission is that the children enjoy some personal attention and a bit of fun with Hands-On Saigon volunteers.