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The Surgeon Who Is a Bridge Between Vietnam and Cambodia

07/03/2018 


The Surgeon Who Is a Bridge Between Vietnam and Cambodia

DR. NGUYEN KIM KHOA is a Vietnamese surgeon who has devoted his life to the fight against leprosy. With his A-team (a physiotherapist, an orthopedist and a nurse), he travels throughout Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to carry out surgery on people affected by leprosy so that they may recover the use of their hands, eyes or feet.

This was a life choice that demanded a lot of courage in order to face society’s rejection of this disease. “When I started working on leprosy in the early 1990s, my dermatology colleagues would shun me and avoid any physical contact with me,” Dr. Khoa said. “But I didn’t give up and I kept working with people affected by leprosy without wearing any gloves or a mask. It has taken time but things are better now.”

The Vietnamese authorities have also been very active and efficient in their information and awareness campaigns on TV, on the radio, in schools and communities, that have continuously reminded people that the disease can be cured and is no longer contagious as soon as medicine is taken, medicine that is distributed for free.

In 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized Vietnam’s success in the elimination of leprosy, which means that the incidence of the disease is less than 1 per 10,000 at the national level.

DR. NGUYEN KIM KHOA was born and grew up in Cambodia, where a significant Vietnamese community used to live. Following the US-supported coup in 1968, the new Cambodian government perpetrated mass killings of its Vietnamese citizens, forcing them to flee to their country of origin even though their families had left it several generations ago.

After arriving in Saigon in 1970, the young Khoa passed his baccalaureate before going into medicine. “After studying for 6 years, I graduated with a diploma in obstetric surgery. I was then given the choice to work either in oncology or on leprosy. My wife was already working on leprosy as a social worker, so I was already aware of the disease and I decided to work in that field.”

The choice made him Vietnam’s pioneer of surgical interventions with people affected by the disease: “It was like studying medicine from scratch again. There was nothing on the subject. During classes, there was not one chapter on leprosy. I immersed myself in WHO documents and I learned everything on my own. And little by little, I built my own experience.”

It was then that he was hired by the Order of Malta France as part of a partnership with Vietnam. His missions extend to Laos and Cambodia. “We do technology transfers but the last thing we want is to replace the doctors on the ground,” he explained.

Several times a year, Dr. Khoa and his team come to Phnom Penh to share their expertise with the physicians of the rehabilitation centre of Kien Khleang supported by CIOMAL.

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