Vietnamese surgeons maintain long links

Taking a break from discussing clinical cases in Dunedin Hospital yesterday are (from left) Simon McMahon, Dr Doan Quang Phuong, John Dunbar, Dr Phan Canh Cuong, interpreter Phuoc Nguyen, Dr Nguyen Thuong Hung and Dr Dao Anh Tuan. Photo by Gregor Richardson. A group of Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons from the city of Quy Nhon have been in Dunedin this week, observing hip and knee surgery.

Hip and knee replacements are carried out only in Vietnam's main centres, not in Quy Nhon, which has a population of 260,000, although some of its hospitals serve a much larger population.

The visit was organised by the New Zealand Viet Nam Health Trust, of which Dunedin orthopaedic surgeon John Dunbar is a board member. Mr Dunbar and fellow orthopaedic surgeon Simon McMahon have spent the week showing the surgeons operations at Dunedin and Mercy hospitals, and teaching them about pre-operative and post-operative care.

Next week, the surgeons head to Nelson and then Auckland, for further clinical observation. The three-week visit continues co-operation fostered when the New Zealand Surgical Team was based in Quy Nhon from 1963 to 1975. The New Zealand Services Medical Team was 100km north at Bong Son, also in Binh Dinh province, from 1967 to 1971.

There was a break in the link at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 until the early 1990s, when New Zealanders returned to the area.

The surgeons work at three different hospitals, the biggest of which was a leprosy hospital that treats patients from up to 12 provinces (15 million people).

The rehabilitation centre treats children born with deformities, one of the causes of which was likely to be defoliants like Agent Orange, used in the war.

The Vietnamese surgeons' areas of expertise were trauma, deformity correction, and leprosy surgery.

Mr Dunbar hoped to travel to Quy Nhon in the next year to help once they started carrying out the operations. It would be his 11th visit.

The surgeons were particularly interested in observing arthroscopic (key-hole) surgery.

Interpreter Phuoc Nguyen said memories were strong of the New Zealand doctors and nurses who provided medical care in the 1960s and 1970s, including Dunedin's Dr Brian McMahon, father of Simon McMahon.

''Still people talk about the Kiwi doctors. They say Kiwi doctors saved their lives,'' he said.

''After the war, an interruption, from 1975 until 1991-92 [when] they came back. They came back and provided support to local health care,'' Mr Phuoc said. Mr McMahon said hip and knee replacements were increasingly seen as mainstream surgery in Vietnam, which was increasing its health spending and had a booming economy.

Spurred by this father's involvement with the area, Mr McMahon has visited several times, and is a member of the trust. Before the doctors leave the South, Mr McMahon is taking them to Queenstown for the weekend.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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