Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 17 Site Visit: Pediatric Hospital

The visual landscape here is so rich that it is easy to forget that we are strange guests to someone's home. I was reminded of this today.

Our group is touring Hanoi on two large US-style buses. While the drivers are adept at navigating through the narrow streets, these vehicles are inappropriate for many of the thickly settled neighborhoods. Heading toward the medical district, we stare out our windows on people lining the curb, many of the staring back. The children waved, as did some of the adults, although it was stressful to watch how close we were coming to their bikes, vespas, and belongings. We passed clinics with dozens of mothers and children gathered an open courtyard that served as an exterior waiting room, a crowd unimaginable in the US. One mother held a baby with only one eye who smiled and waved.

The pediatric hospital is a government-run institution with few resources and a dilapidated infrastructure. The building is covered in mildew and while it is clean, it is not sterile, not air conditioned, and not private. Our group was visiting under the pretense of viewing medical equipment. An earlier visit to Breath of Life, an NGO, was an inspiring look at how one group deals with Vietnam's need for low cost, critical medical equipment. And after one visit to the Pediatric Hospital and you'll realize that much of the medical equipment we take for granted is never used even in the most critical situation. The Vietnamese public hospitals either cannot afford it, don't know how to use it. or the multiple sterile replacement parts are inaccessible.

What made the visit to the NICU painful was not the condition of the underweight infants, but the way we were invited to tour the ward. We were forty MBA students, walking close to infants in open bassinets and incubators, and we should have known that we were violating patient rights. In the US, all patients are protected by the Health Information Privacy and Protection Act (HIPPA). You do not take photographs, or enter intensive care areas unless in a small group and wearing sterile scrubs. Likely a nurse manager would never have let our group onto the floor -- the NICU is a stressful place, with severely underweight babies. There would be no reason to let in a group of tourists.

Hindsight is of course 20/20; I did not realize what I was doing until after I had done it. It was an important lesson that when visiting someone's home, I should tread lightly and quietly.

Written by: Katie Faulkner

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