VIETNAM - Dao Thi Lien runs a small convenient store on the 5. "Emergency Medical Services chapter," declared on a prominent sign in her window, alerts her neighborhood that she is also a first aid station. First aid--and the only aid. Medical Teams International is training volunteers like Lien in First Responder skills that will prevent further injuries after accidents...and even save lives.
Her log—a hardback patient ledger—tells the story. Every call listed:
Truck hits car.
Motorcycle hits truck.
Car hits pedestrian.
Results include everything from scrapes and bruises to fatalities.
“It’s ‘right of weight’ in Vietnam,” says Paul Bollinger, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) manager with Medical Teams International.
There’s a lot of weight traveling down Vietnam’s National Highway 5. Stretching from Hanoi in the south to the port city of Hai Phong in the north, it is one of the country’s most traveled highways, handling not only the freight coming in through Vietnam’s largest port, but also the local traffic of the more than 600,000 people living along its length.
Heavy traffic; daily casualties
Dao Thi Lien runs a small convenience store on the highway. “Emergency Medical Services chapter,” declared on a prominent sign in her window, alerts her neighborhood that she is also a first aid station. First aid—and the only aid.
She, and other shop owners or residents like her, are Vietnam’s volunteer emergency medical system. They are the medical help attending to accident victims. One volunteer for every three- to seven-kilometer (approximately 5-mile) stretch of highway.
Lien’s section of highway is on a blind curve. Her log shows an average of five to six calls a week. In one hectic one-hour block in December 2006, she logged three incidents.
When Lien is alerted to injuries on the highway, she grabs her leather satchel with minimal first aid supplies, leaves her shop and heads to the accident. She never knows what she’ll find—or if she’ll be able to treat it.
Training to save lives
Lien is one of the better-trained First Responders; she has prior EMS training and was a doctor’s assistant for a number of years. Other volunteer First Responders have no training at all.
Working with Vietnam Red Cross, Bollinger, his Vietnam staff, and EMS volunteer teams are training community volunteers like Lien in First Responder skills, including CPR, stabilizing the back, and safe transportation to the hospital.
“Ms. Lien said this was the first time she participated in this kind of efficient, hands-on training with a lot of practices, which enable her to easily remember and confidently apply what she learned to her daily voluntary service,” said Mai Nguyen, Vietnam country manager for Medical Teams International. “She was very touched by the passion of the volunteer instructors, as well. She said they were not only qualified, but also enthusiastically imparted their knowledge and experience to the students.”
“With tens of thousands of motorcycles over there—and no helmets—head injuries are very common,” Bollinger said. “Ms. Lien said that one thing she learned in the class is how to prevent further injury to someone by the way she handles the head and neck.”
Medical Teams International’s EMS project is not only training volunteer First Responders like Lien; it is also putting monitoring systems in place to continue to develop a sustainable, effective program.
Lien’s first class taught her basic skills for responding to accidents along the highway. Further classes will give her the training she needs to train others. She already plans to teach a class of 10 motorcycle taxi drivers, so they, too, can prevent further injury and even save lives.