A woman’s fight against the pain of Agent Orange

Professor, Doctor Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong is a leading clinician/researcher on the effects of Agent Orange on the health of the Vietnamese people.

nguyen thi ngoc phuong, AO, AO victims

Doctor Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong.

Besides her great contributions to science, she is also one of those who have helped the world learn about the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange and appealed to the US for justice and meaningful compensation for the victims.

Doctor Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, Vice President of the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA), Vice President of the Vietnam Obstetricians and Gynecologists Association and Chair of the Ho Chi Minh City Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Association.

Since the 1970s, doctor Phuong, an obstetrician, has seen many Vietnamese children born with gross birth defects and disabilities for unknown reasons.

She felt so broken-hearted looking into the faces of these children that she spent much time researching and reading medical documents with the hope of finding the reasons causing this strange phenomenon.

nguyen thi ngoc phuong, AO, AO victims 

Dr. Phuong (middle) visits Viet and Duc, the conjoined twins who were affected by Agent Orange, at the Red Cross Hospital, Tokyo, Japan, in 1986.

nguyen thi ngoc phuong, AO, AO victims

Dr. Phuong performs a charitable surgery at Quoc Anh Hospital in Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City.

During that time, she accidentally read a scientific report on this problem by the US National Academy of Sciences issued in 1974. This made her think about the possible relationship between birth defects and the dioxin laden Agent Orange sprayed by the US army over the people and land of Vietnam during the war more than 30 years ago.

To confirm her suspicions, in 1982 she conducted a study in over 1,000 households in Thanh Phong Commune, Thanh Phu District, Ben Tre Province. As a result, the percentage of people living in the Agent Orange sprayed areas having birth defects was three or four times higher than those in other places.

In 1983, she announced the results in a magazine in the UK and since then she has been determined to find the cause of the effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people.

In the position of Vice President of the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA), she has made great contributions to engaging the public health and environmental communities in raising their voices to ensure that the Vietnamese people get treatment, compensation and cleanup of the toxic hot spots.

nguyen thi ngoc phuong, AO, AO victims 

Dr. Phuong visits Agent Orange affected children.

nguyen thi ngoc phuong, AO, AO victims 

Dr. Phuong and members of the Vietnam-US Dialogue Group on Agent Orange visit the hot spot of Dong Son Commune, A Luoi District, Thua Thien-Hue Province.

She has striven for justice and rights for the Vietnamese victims. Thanks to the efforts by doctor Phuong and the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange, on May 15, 2008 the US House of Representatives had to open a hearing entitled “Our Forgotten Responsibility: What Can We Do to Help Victims of Agent Orange”.

At this hearing, Phuong was the first Vietnamese scientist to speak on this issue. At the 3rd hearing on July 15, 2010, doctor Phuong appealed to the US Congress and the US chemical firms to take responsibility for compensating over three million Vietnamese victims.

Doctor Phuong said that the long-drawn out struggle for justice and compensation for the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange still faces tremendous obstacles. However, initial results have begun.

At the 3rd hearing, the representatives of the US government said that it would be willing to co-operate with Vietnam in improving the environment and dealing with the consequences of Agent Orange.

From 2010-2019, the action programme by the Vietnam-US Dialogue Group on Agent Orange will give 300 million USD (30 million USD/year) to help Vietnam improve the contaminated hot spots, rehabilitate the destroyed living environment and expand services to help the victims.

When speaking about Phuong, it is impossible not to mention her contributions to the establishment of 13 Hoa Binh (Peace) Villages where Agent Orange affected children are taken care of.

Also, she is well-known as the leading obstetrician in the country. Since 1997, she has been engaged in research on assisted reproductive technology (ART) such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) of sterile couples.

She successfully implemented the first IVF in Vietnam at Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. She also helped establish the sperm bank system, a pregnant women’s care network and has promoted a strategy for clean and safe birth attendance in remote areas. To date, nearly 700 rural midwives from various ethnic minority groups living in the Central Highlands have been trained.

Although she is now 70 years old, she regularly organizes many trips to provide medical check-ups for poor ethnic people in mountainous and remote areas.

To end the article, this VNP reporter would like to excerpt her speech at the 3rd hearing on Agent Orange to the US House of Representatives on July 15, 2010: “Patients suffering cancer and other diseases caused by Agent Orange are dying day after day. And every day babies are born with birth defects and disabilities. Justice must be given back to them and they must be compensated for the pain endured by themselves and their families.”

- Born in 1944 in Bien Hoa – Dong Nai.

- Graduating from the obstetric faculty. In 1994, she was elected for four levels at the Council of French Professors and recognized as Professor of Medicine by the French President.

- Deputy Chairwoman of the 8th National Assembly (1987-1992).

- Deputy Chair, Commission of the International Relations of the 9th Vietnam National Assembly (1992-1997).

- Director of Ho Chi Minh City Cardiovascular Institute (1989-1991)

- Director of Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City (1990-2005)

- In 2000, she was awarded the title “Labour Hero” by the State.

- In 2004, she is given the title “People’s Physician”.

- She is now a member of the Advisory Board on Women’s Health in Asia, the Asia Pacific Initiative on Reproductive Endocrinology and the Vietnam-US Dialogue Group on Agent Orange.

Source: VNP

nguyen thi ngoc phuong, AO, AO victims