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Catholic nun leads mission of mercy for Vietnam's rural poor

Health workers give free medical checkups and medicines to mostly ethnic M'Nong villagers

UCA News reporter, Dak Nong

UCA News reporter, Dak Nong

Updated: January 28, 2021 04:03 AM GMT
Catholic nun leads mission of mercy for Vietnam's rural poor

Sister Anna Pauline Ngo Thi Ngo examines Peter Dieu Non at Tan Phuc Church on Jan. 16. (Photo: UCA News)

Ethnic M’Nong villager Mary Thi Luc has been experiencing severe traumas in her backbone, shoulders and right leg since she had a road accident in 2017.

She has to stop to rest because of awful pain every time she walks 30 meters. She regularly asks for painkillers from her subparish priest to relieve her unbearable pain.

Luc, a 40-year-old mother of four, works with her husband to grow rice and coffee. They also work as daily wage earners to support their family. They suffer from a lack of food but it is not for want of trying.

“I could not afford to go into hospital for medical treatment,” she told a visiting doctor after describing her illnesses.

The woman, who looks pale and thin, said the doctor offered her medicine and showed her how to use herbs to relieve her pain.

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“I am really excited to have free medical checkups and medicines. I wish to have good health to look after my family,” Luc said gently.

Peter Dieu Non endures arthralgia, backache and high blood pressure and buys medicine from a pharmacy without a prescription.

The coffee farmer, who wears two shirts to keep warm in the chilly weather, said he could not work on his farm because of his excruciating pain.

The 62-year-old man with weathered skin said he has never gone to the hospital 35 kilometers from his house. He earns only 20 million dong (US$870) a year, which is insufficient for his family’s basic needs.

His visiting doctor prescribed him various medications for his ailments. The medicines he took in the past were not suitable for his conditions. The doctor also advised him to follow healthy eating and use herbal medicines to improve his health.

Luc and Non were among 400 patients, most of them ethnic M’Nong villagers, who were given free medical checkups and medicines at Tan Phuc Church in Tuy Duc district of Dak Nong province, which borders Cambodia.

Some 34 visiting doctors, nurses and pharmacists from six public hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City and three provinces volunteered to care for the patients on Jan. 16.

Dr. Joseph Nguyen Phi Hung said ethnic villagers have an excess of salt in their daily food, so many suffer high blood pressure. One popular dish is salt mixed with cassava leaves and chilies. Many men have drinking problems.

A 91-year-old woman had a dangerously high systolic blood pressure reading of 200 and many children also suffer high blood pressure.

The doctor from Binh Duong Hospital said local people have no basic information on health care and many buy medicines advertised on television and social media for their illnesses. They misunderstand drug facts, directions, uses and warnings and consequently suffer other diseases.

The Catholic neurologist said most children suffer from malnutrition due to lack of proper food.

He said visiting doctors advised them to take medications by prescription and have proper food to protect their stomachs and prevent other diseases.

“It is important that we show them ways of eating well and using herbs to take care of their health,” Hung said, adding that herbal remedies are available and do not cost money.

Sacred Heart Dominican Sister Anna Pauline Ngo Thi Ngo, who led the visiting health workers, said they offered patients medications for diseases related to the heart, eyes, ears, nose, throat, liver, kidneys, digestion, nerves and joints. They also gave them ultrasound scanning and electrocardiogram analysis.

Sister Ngo, also a doctor, said benefactors donated the medicines. She said six patients will have their cataracts removed without charge.

The nun, who is in charge of her congregation’s health care, said she gathers caregivers to provide free checkups and medicines for people in remote areas every month.

She said her congregation’s priorities are to give pastoral care, basic education and health care to domestic migrant workers.

Father Peter Tran Thanh Truc, the subparish priest, said local people are really excited to receive visiting doctors who offered them free medicines for the first time. Only elderly people, women and children were selected for health care.

The subparish serves 2,700 Catholics, 90 percent of them ethnic M’Nong villagers. They cultivate rice, cassava, cashew and coffee and earn a meager living due to infertile soil. They pay little attention to education and cannot afford to get medical treatment at public hospitals.

“I hope local people are interested in herbal remedies and know how to treat their illness,” Father Truc said, adding that many herbs grow in fields and forests.

Vietnam has more than 100,000 ethnic M’Nong people living in the provinces of Binh Phuoc, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Lam Dong and Quang Nam in the Central Highlands. They are among the Southeast Asian country’s 54 ethnic groups.

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