Laos is landlocked by China to the north, Vietnam to the east, Thailand and Cambodia to the south, and Myanmar to the west. It is a country governed by a Communist Party, along with China, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam. An occasional Communist Party flag flying over the entry-way of government buildings or party-member businesses is a regular part of life here where the country's 7,000,000 people are extraordinarily friendly and hospitable.
With a five-person team, REI launched its initial survey into Laos in April 2005. At the time, very few Laotians spoke English, but the team asked that simple, now-familiar question, “How can we help?” REI sought opportunities to help develop human resource capacity in agriculture, English education, and / or medicine. Agriculture and English education opportunities were initial non-starters, but medicine received an immediate positive response. Between them, the Director’s Team of a major hospital in the capital city of Vientiane was able to communicate well enough in English to understand our team’s interest in “building the Lao people to build the Lao nation.” They extended an invitation to return in the spring of 2006 to meet with the Lao Minister of Health. At that meeting the Minister pleaded with REI to help Lao children by training doctors and nurses in the Pediatric and OB departments of Mittaphab (“Friendship”) Hospital. With one of the world’s highest infant and maternal mortality rates, the nation’s priority was, and remains, the health of its mothers and children.
From that small beginning, the Lao Ministry of Health now hosts five resident REI couples who regularly teach and train in clinical pediatrics, pediatric surgery, general surgery, neonatal nursing, and pediatric intensive care in Vientiane’s Mittaphab and National Children’s Hospitals. REI staff members also teach English and medical English at the two hospitals and at the University of Health Sciences (UHS). Visiting volunteers conduct biannual seminars in English education, teacher development, “Executive Leadership and Management,” and various medical specialties.
Two major breakthroughs have been achieved in the last year. Since mid-2016 REI has led in the development of a Level II-B Neonatal Special Care Unit (NSCU) in the OB department of Mittaphab Hospital. With “Asian-state-of-the-art” equipment now in place, REI staff and volunteers now devote their time to training obstetric doctors and nurses in the operation of the NSCU. The NSCU will be formally “handed over” to the hospital on May 15, 2017. This project is a huge development for the Laotian people, making the stable transport of critical babies to intensive care a new possibility, and helping to fulfill the Ministry of Health’s first request to REI—to help lower the nation’s infant mortality rate.
At the same hospital, the REI surgeon (whose sub-specialty is laparoscopic surgery), obtained a full set of “last generation” (via-a-vis robotic) laparoscopic tools and training devices in 2016, and began training hospital surgical staff in their use (right). While a common form of surgery in the west, this was major advance in training for the Laotian doctors.
On March 18, 2017, under his watchful eye, a Lao surgical team successfully completed its first-ever laparoscopic surgery! All are rightfully proud of this landmark achievement in pursuit of REI’s aim to “build people to build nations.”
The future in Laos looks bright. REI’s contribution is highly valued in the capital city, and extends into the provinces as trained Lao medical doctors train the next generation. We have more invitations to teach and to train than we have human and financial resources to do it. There seems to be no end to the opportunities to “build people to build nations” in one of the world’s most welcoming, appreciative, and underserved countries.
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