Before entering the 10th grade, healthcare worker Dr. Hoang Manh Hoai faced the most difficult decision of his young life. A horrible spell of weather had just wiped out all the crops on his family’s farm. Worsening matters, Hoai’s father had fallen dangerously ill. With the family’s sources of income vanishing overnight, Hoai, the oldest of seven children, knew he had to help. So, he made the unenviable choice to drop out of school and go to work.
When the family’s luck turned to the better a year later, he seized upon the opportunity to return to school, eventually earning a medical doctorate. The time Dr. Hoai spent toiling for his loved ones is a key reason he joined Vietnam’s Ministry of Health (MOH), and left an indelible imprint about the value of learning in his mind.
“Knowledge is endless, so we need to improve ourselves every day,” said Hoai, reflecting on his family’s woes over three decades earlier. “When we study, even just a little bit, it can make a huge difference on ourselves.”
The mindset of perpetual learning carried Hoai through university and beyond. Today, he serves as the Head of Medical Service for the Binh Phuoc Department of Health. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing the MOH’s services for the nearly one million residents in the province. Chief among his responsibilities is ensuring that disabled persons receive the care and support they need to lead healthy, active, and rewarding lives.
With limited resources and facilities available, Dr. Hoai is on an endless hunt for new knowledge that will improve the services his department provides. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Hoai accepted an opportunity in April to join a week-long study tour of disability services in Thailand, run by Kenan Foundation Asia as part of the USAID-funded Partner Capacity Development program.
The program brought 16 Vietnamese policymakers and medical practitioners to Bangkok to experience the comprehensive rehabilitation services offered in Thailand. During the tour, Dr. Hoai engaged with leading healthcare policymakers, hospital managers, and public health officials in Thailand who shared their knowledge about integrating inpatient and outpatient care and delivering high-impact rehabilitation services.
Dr. Hoai left Bangkok with new ideas to improve the efficiency of health services and gained hands-on experience using cutting-edge prosthetics and innovative technologies that are greatly improving the lives of disabled individuals. However, visiting with patients in the hospital and community made the deepest impression on Dr. Hoai.
“I found out that people with disabilities, whether you’re in Vietnam or Thailand, need care from the community,” Dr. Hoai said.
Interacting with community members made it apparent to Dr. Hoai that Vietnam lacked the same organized system of peer support from community and family members as well as home visits from medical volunteers and professionals that is so effective in Thailand.
Inspired by Thailand’s model, Dr. Hoai began thinking about how he could develop the same community support model in Binh Phuoc. Alongside his colleagues Dr. Le Anh Tuan, Dr. Phan Van Tap, and Dr. Nguyen Thanh Hoi, Dr. Hoai assessed the potential of the model in Binh Phuoc, built key local partnerships to support the initiative (such as the local Women’s Union and Elderly Union), and found the necessary resources and facilities to take action.
Just months after the study tour, Dr. Hoai and his colleagues officially acquired the permits to proceed with the Tan Hiep Community-based Rehabilitation Center, the first such center in the province. The center, which will open later this year, will serve as the focal point for rehabilitation care for the elderly and people with disabilities in Tan Hiep Commune. The center will house both the equipment and resources needed to provide quality rehabilitation care as well as a team of dedicated doctors and health volunteers who make regular visits to patients’ homes, thereby providing personalized care and reducing the burden on families.
Dr. Hoai’s spirit for helping others and quest for constant improvement was reinvigorated thanks to the study tour. The community-based rehabilitation center will lead to real improvements to the care available to people with disabilities in Tan Hiep, and Dr. Hoai has even bigger plans for the future.
The impact of the study tour affected Dr. Hoai’s personal life as well. His father, whose return to good health those many years ago enabled young Hoai to go back to school and ultimately build a better life for himself, is now 80 years old. Since returning from the study tour, Dr. Hoai has made a point of speaking and visiting with his father more often to provide the physical and emotional support his father needs.
It’s the human element that is too often overlooked in healthcare, and Dr. Hoai is on a mission to fix that problem for his loved ones and the thousands of constituents who depend on him.
Kenan organized four such study tours, with a total of 60 participants from community organization leaders, policymakers and medical practitioners. Find out more about the Vietnam Disabilities Study Tour.