About the Author: Tom Weinz is the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer for Pacific Partnership 2010.
The People's Committee of Binh Dinh Province hosted a farewell dinner at a charming open-air restaurant looking out at the lights of the ships off shore, including Mercy. This dinner, and the earlier closing ceremony at the pier, was the celebratory finale to Pacfic Partnership 2010 (PP10) in Vietnam, and especially meaningful because of what was, in my opinion, the nearly flawless mission conducted over the past thirteen days.
The overall statistics are typically impressive: 132 surgeries performed on Mercy; 19,063 patients seen; 12,400 pairs of eye glasses distributed; and four ambitious renovations by PP10 engineers. But only we participants experience the human detail hidden within these statistics. The procedure to repair a cleft palate may be routine for an accomplished surgeon, but leads to a vastly improved quality of life for the small child patient. And it is a revelation to see the change in people who have been suffering tooth and gum pain for years, or slowly losing their ability to see clearly, when they leave the dental or optometry areas.
The old adage about teaching a person to fish as opposed to continually giving her fish is always a consideration in our planning. One of the most sustaining programs offered by Pacific Partnership missions is the SMEE: Subject Matter Expert Exchange. Local providers are given a list of topics and offered an opportunity to join a presentation and roundtable discussion in specific subject areas. Vietnam is the most medically advanced nation we will visit, and SMEEs were conducted around advanced topics such as neuroradiology and interventional cardiology. I personally monitored a SMEE on nursing procedures, with both Vietnamese and American nurses considering doctor-nurse relations and how to attract more talented young people (male as well as female) into nursing as a profession. Another impressive program is biomedical repair. Hospitals around Vietnam have been submitting data on broken medical equipment for months. PP10 biomedical engineers were able to repair 35 pieces of medical equipment, with a repair value in excess of $4.3 million dollars. The engineers also work with local technicians to ensure that the equipment is maintained properly and operators are fully trained.
Since Cambodia is so close to Vietnam, we have only two days to prepare everything for the next mission. Early on June 15, we'll have boats heading towards the port at Sihanoukville to start all over again.