A humanitarian lesson from Vietnam

TN News

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There are lessons to be learned from America's complex relationship with Vietnam.

Should we perceive the continued involvement of Americans with Vietnam years after the unpopular war as a massive collective guilty conscience or simply as a fascination with the culture, or perhaps both? Any way we look at the situation, American interests are involved in Vietnam and the reform minded Communist Party of Vietnam has welcomed many American investments in the country. And so, as the American society splinters in more serious ways than ever before since the anti-war protests of the 1960s, as can be seen by the Occupy Wall Street movement, perhaps Americans should learn something from Vietnam about working to make this world a more humane place.

President Obama's administration is under siege from all sides as the nation runs into its worst budget deficit in history and he has had to take his healthcare reform package, which many people think the nation simply cannot afford, to the US Supreme Court for review. Amidst all of this turmoil the poorest Americans without sufficient health coverage are still turned away from clinics and hospitals and they are often dying horrible deaths from lack of proper healthcare. Perhaps what is needed in the US is more free healthcare for the poor from the private sector as has been brought to Vietnam in the socialist minded tradition of the country by a group of Buddhist monks and physicians in Tue Tinh Duong Lien Hoa Clinic in central Thua Thien-Hue Province.

The story was reported in the Vietnam News under the title, "Healthcare relief for the poor." The clinic, located in the premises of the Phap Luan Pagoda in Hue Town's Phu Hoi Ward, was founded in May 2005 and led by the physician-monk Thich Tue Tam, the Abbot and executive director. A combination of Oriental and Western medicines is used at the clinic with priority given to traditional medicines.

The clinic is now recognized as a "charity clinic" and has become internationally known. It has attracted not only Vietnamese patients but also patients from countries such as Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and the US. For people living in remote areas who find it difficult to access healthcare, the physicians have organized 8-10 mobile clinics which provide free health examinations. This clinic set-up has treated 2,000-2,500 patients at an average cost of VND50 million (US$2,380) per trip.

Tam has said "I have seen a lot of poor people who have to fight disease and poverty. I am moved to tears. I want to use the monks' medical knowledge and conscience to save patients' lives." He has also said the clinic has provided healthcare and treatment for 200-250 people every day. Each year, it serves more than 50,000 patients.

Vietnam is still fighting the economic ravages of the Vietnam war when extensive bombing campaigns and use of napalm shocked the world. The nation has mobilized massive recovery initiatives for decades. The efforts of the group at the Tue Tinh Duong Lien Hoa Clinic to bring free healthcare for the poor have been deeply appreciated. In this instance where the value of human life has risen above all other concerns, we are seeing that there remains hope for humanity on this planet. This is a lesson the US should learn from Vietnam during these troubled times.

Harold Mandel, MD

The original article was published on the Examiner.com

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