A pivotal program of VinaCapital Foundation is the outreach clinics. The outreach clinic provides the behind the scenes work for Heartbeat Vietnam. These clinics go out to rural provinces to find children suffering from Congenital Heart Disease.
This past weekend, a bus full of 4 VCF employees and 8 doctors and nurses headed out for Binh Phuoc Province. After the warm welcome reception from the province leaders, we went to work in the local hospital. At first, VCF staff was worried that perhaps the word had not spread. There were only a couple of families there to receive their checkups. Part of the success of an outreach clinic depends on the cooperation of the local government. They inform the surrounding communities on the free clinic. Luckily, as the day proceeded, more and more families from all different backgrounds showed up to receive a medical screening. Both young and old came in to have their heart listened to by doctors. Many just came to ensure that their child was healthy; others were deeply affected by poor health. Many of the children were much smaller compared to a healthy child. There were many children too exhausted to walk or even stay awake through the clinic; their mothers carrying them from room to room. One could sense that the burden of heart disease was heavy among these families.
During an outreach clinic, one can see the connections between poverty and health. While congenital heart disease can affect any child, families living in poverty suffer so much more when their child is so sick. The meager incomes of these provinces are not nearly enough to pay for surgery or hospital fees for a sick child. Often families are spending every cent they have in order to help their child; even then it is not enough. In Binh Phuoc Province specifically, there is a large ethnic minority population. Most families that came in for the free check-up were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Ethnic minorities are an especially vulnerable population; according to a 2009 census, infant mortality rate is higher among Vietnam’s ethnic minorities (UNFPA). One cannot control who is born with congenital heart disease, but we can control the solution; We can help reduce infant mortality and help increase capacity of poor ethnic minorities through providing heart surgery.
Dr. Nguyen Hoang Dịnh, the head doctor of the outreach clinic, explained at the end of the day about 150 patients were examined, and 25 cases were found to have congenital heart disease. He said that this clinic was the preliminary stage; next, the confirmed cases will have further screenings to determine when surgery would be best. He said the majority would be operated on within the next year.
The first confirmed case of congenital heart disease was little Nhu. Last year, 11-year-old Nhu fainted at school, and since then her condition had been worsening. She often became sick, missing many days of school. She was no longer able to keep up with her younger brother or other children her age. The family traveled to Ho Chi Minh City to attempt to get Nhu help. There they found out that she had a Ventricular Septal Defect. Without any financial aid, the cost of surgery was far out of reach for the family. Both of Nbu’s parents work as hired laborers whenever there is work. Even though they complete the same work, Nhu’s mother will often be paid less because of her gender. Besides this meager income, Nhu’s family has no other assets besides their tiny, wooden house. They drove over two hours to go to this outreach clinic just for the chance to help Nhu regain a normal life.
These outreach clinics serve those with the greatest needs. Without these clinics, children like Nhu may never recover from their disease. Through the outreach clinics, we can provide children suffering from congenital heart disease a second lease on life. We can prevent ethnic minority children from becoming another poverty or infant mortality statistic, and enable them to better themselves and their community.
Writer: Stephanie Thompson