VN military medics to join UN peacekeeping efforts in South Sudan

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For the medical officers of the first Vietnamese delegation to a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, the initial anxiety has been replaced with pride and confidence after receiving intensive training ahead of their one-year duty.

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Vietnamese medical officers are shown the layout of the hospital that will be deployed in South Sudan, as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission. 

“Wearing blue helmets, with red Vietnamese blood flowing in our hearts, we are ready for the African trip, to contribute to world peace,” said an assured Major Bui Duc Thanh, who will lead the Field Hospital Level 2 No 1 – the Vietnamese medical unit on its way to South Sudan this July.

The event, according to Vietnamese leaders, marks the ‘impressive growth’ of the blue helmet force and reaffirms the Vietnamese Government’s commitment to international integration and contribution to international humanitarian and peace efforts.

The military officers who will carry out this honourable but challenging duty have displayed unending efforts to achieve their mission, living up to their reputation as ‘Uncle Ho’s army’ on the global stage.

The field hospital level 2 – the optimal version of field hospitals in mid-term deployment – was a task assigned to the Military Hospital 175 based in HCM City.

Four months after receiving the order in July 2014, the field hospital took shape, with medical officers picked with meticulous consideration from military hospitals across the southern region.

However, as this is the first time Viet Nam has created a field hospital of this scale, everything was new.

Major Thanh recalled the first days of the hospital, while the recruitment process was taking place.

“The civil wars in Africa filled our minds with concern, as well as the United Nations’ strict requirements. We must pick each individual from a pool of several hundred to make up the ‘core framework’ of the hospital,” he told the Vietnam News Agency.

According to Major Thanh, the key criteria for recruitment are the officer’s virtues, professional skills and foreign language proficiency. In the beginning, English was the biggest challenge for the trainees as the United Nations demanded a proficiency of at least IELTS 5.5, while most Vietnamese nurses, doctors and technicians struggled with the language.

Once the list of officers is compiled, they were sent to take intensive English classes with the support of the Australian embassy.

Aside from the challenging language training course, the medical officers also received exhaustive training on medical knowledge, survival skills and quick responses to unexpected incidents, as their working environment will be in hostile field conditions.

Field trips lasting several days and nights in the deepest reaches of tropical forests are one of the most physically and mentally straining exercises for medical officers.

“Foreign experts drew up various scenarios for us to learn how to navigate in case of getting lost, as well as to know how to make a fire or locate water sources, how to identify edible plants, and how to make traps to catch animals in the forest.

“We were taught various methods to avoid being ambushed or to escape from captivity, and how to recognise the tell-tale signs of mine-ridden areas so that we can circumvent them,” Major Thanh said.

“Basically, we were taught everything that could help ensure our survival in all conditions.”

As this is Viêet Nam’s first international medical mission, preparations, training, and assessment were overseen strictly by the UN’s book.

For nearly four years, the defence ministry, Military Hospital 175 and the field hospital’s medical officers were “learning as they go” with little experience and no precedents to fall back on.

“There are so many procedures and requirements different to Vietnamese standards. In many cases, even after the officers have finished their own training, they still couldn’t pass the UN’s assessment and were asked to be re-trained,” said Major Colonel Nguyen Hong Son, director of the Military Hospital 175.

“Some were disqualified in the tests, and we needed to recruit new members and the training started from zero again.”

Ready to go

Ensuring the safety of medical officers overseas is the number one priority of the Ministry of Defence and Military Hospital 175.

The harsh conditions in Africa are the least of our problems. The continent is rife with dangers, from unanticipated accidents to surprise attacks from opposition forces and multiple rebel groups.

“Sometimes the reason for attacks is simply hunger, they need our food. And then there are concerns of diseases like Ebola,” Major Colonel Son said.

Having come to South Sudan himself to survey the conditions, Major Thanh recalls the scorching heat, constantly sitting around 40 degrees Celsius, with spikes of up to 54 degrees Celsius, which only gets reduced by torrential downpours that last for days.

Poor infrastructure and incessant conflicts between factions are also the grim reality that will face Vietnamese medical officers in the region.

Safety protocols were all devised based on this survey trip and the UN’s recommendations. All required machinery and basic amenities have been prepared and transported to South Sudan ahead of the mission.

“After four years of strenuous training, we want to make it clear to the world that Vietnamese medical officers are outstanding and can meet the UN’s demands. Field hospital level 2, with its 73 medical officers, is ready to carry out its mission starting this July,” Major Colonel Son stressed.

In the last inspection of the field hospital, Colonel General Nguyen Chi Vinh, Deputy Minister of Defence, said that the field hospital is ready and will serve as the premise for future Vietnamese field hospitals and army engineer forces participating in UN peacekeeping efforts.

The medical officers of the field hospital, after years of hard training, are more than prepared, as Senior Lieutenant Phan Thi Van Huyen, a technician at the hospital, said.

“I think this is the most meaningful time in my life. I am set up and ready to go at the call of the motherland.”

Source: VietNamNet

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