Another Day in the Life

(Sunset in Phu Quoc Island)

Once again, time has managed to slip away. It’s been a whirlwind since returning from the states. David flew back to Australia for a backcountry ski trip (followed by another month of surfing in Sri Lanka)…and I ventured to Nha Trang to participate in an Avian Influenza/Emerging Pandemic Threats workshop.

(Nha Trang Conference @ Sheraton)

There’s an increasing emphasis on monitoring diseases of animal origin that pose a risk to humans – including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), H5N1 avian influenza, and the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. The speed with which these diseases can emerge and spread presents serious public health, economic and development concerns.

(Fishing Town in Nha Trang)


Interestingly, I just saw a preview for the movie, Contagion. Despite its Hollywood dramatization, I’ll gladly welcome any forum that can help inform the general population of real-life threats that globalization poses on health and to highlight challenges (i.e., political, infrastructure, resources, human capacity, etc.) that public health professionals face when detecting and responding to epidemics.

(Nha Trang)

(Beaches in Nha Trang)

As such, this workshop predominantly focused on the need to strengthen monitoring and evaluation systems across animal and human health sectors to detect dangerous pathogens at an early stage, to build regional, national, and local response capacity, to increase laboratory capacity to support surveillance, and to educate at-risk populations on how to prevent exposure to pathogens.

(Nha Trang)

I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed attending a conference outside the realm of HIV/AIDS. I think I was able to bring a fresh perspective to the table, building on PEPFAR experiences and applying lessons learned to Avian Influenza. I feel truly blessed to be in this field.

Night Photography
(Night Photography @ Hoan Kiem Lake)

Rooftops of Hanoi
(Rooftops of Hanoi)

Alas, I’m back in the world of HIV/AIDS in the midst of our busiest time of year – COP! For those of you not familiar with PEPFAR lingo, COP stands for our Country Operational Plan – an industry unto itself…with a whole team of persons responsible for writing COP Guidance, COP Technical Considerations, and COP Appendices – hundreds of pages of pleasurable reading.

(Lotus Ponds)

(Lotus Leaf Shade)

In this climate of declining resources, PEPFAR wasn’t spared from the butcher’s block. Vietnam took a serious blow to its budget, making this COP process even more contentious.

(Moon Bear Rescue)

PEPFAR, comprised of USAID, CDC, SAMHSA, DOD and State Department (Peace Corps is also included, but Vietnam does not have PC Volunteers), is attempting to view this as an opportunity to re-evaluate our portfolio; to become more strategic and streamlined in our response to HIV/AIDS; and to move towards a technical assistance model where the government of Vietnam takes on more ownership of the HIV/AIDS program.

(Jamey and Jackson)

The process itself is tedious and slow, but hopefully rewarding at the end of the day. Needless to say, work has been rather stressful – but I’m also making the most of the weekends.

(Bear Sanctuary)

A few weeks ago, several of us went to Tam Dao National Park to visit Moon Bear Rescue. This experience not only educated me on the cruel, torturous and inhumane bear bile industry, but also touched my heart.

(Tam Dao National Park)

To quote from Animal Asia’s website, “Bear bile is a prized ingredient of Traditional Medicine with a 3,000-year history of usage. The bile liquid within bear gall bladders is classed as a “bitter, cold” medicine with the function of expelling heat in the body. It is used to treat heat-related illnesses such as high temperatures, liver complaints and sore eyes. Bear bile medicines are used in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and countries across the world with significant Asian populations.

(Asiatic Bears)

(Notice the paw that’s missing…caught in a trap)

The active ingredient in bear bile, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), is more abundant in bears than in any other animal. However, Chinese medical practitioners stress that all bear bile products can be easily replaced by herbal or synthetic alternatives, which are cheaper, more readily available and just as effective.

(Learn more about Moon Bears and how you can help!)

According to official statistics, there were about 4,000 farmed bears in Vietnam in 2008 (90% of whom were moon bears) with another 600 captive bears used for display purposes.

(Indian Culture Night)

(Indian Culture Night)

Unlike in China, where bears are “tapped” for their bile, bears in Vietnam are subjected to a variety of other cruel procedures. All are caged and some undergo crude surgery to remove bile from their gall bladders every three months. This leaves agonizing, infected wounds and often leads to death after three or four such operations.

(Cruising on our private boat in Phu Quoc)

(Amy and Margie)

Today, the bears usually have their gall bladders punctured with long needles, which then “siphon” off the bile via a pump into a glass bottle. Continuous puncturing of the gall bladder often leads to bile leakage and a slow and painful death from peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum – the membrane that lines the wall of the abdomen and covers the abdominal organs).”

(Friends in Phu Quoc)

I’m continuously mortified by man’s cruelty to animals (and to other humans). And it’s extremely evident in this part of the world, where there is a lack of appreciation for the environment.

(Sundowners at Mango Bay)

(Beautiful beaches)

Although, I’m thrilled to say that there are some concerned people in Vietnam doing their part to promote conservation.

(Hiking to the waterfall)

A group of friends just flew to Phu Quoc Island to stay at an eco-lodge, Mango Bay Resort. I absolutely loved its relaxing atmosphere; its rustic bungalows nestled in the forest with scenic views of the ocean; and its gorgeous grounds and gardens.

(Amy and Roger on Phu Quoc)

(Boats on the beach)

(More boats)

I even went running in the mornings along desolate country roads, with the occasional motorbike riding past. I kept thinking, ‘where am I?’ I literally felt as though I had traveled to another country altogether!

(Paul, Ann and Amy)

We spent four days and three nights chilling on the beach, exploring the island, snorkeling in the sea, touring the fish sauce factory, and even shopping for pearls. My only complaint is that time went by too quickly, and that I’m already back in the hustle and bustle of Hanoi.

(Fish Sauce Factory)

(Oh, that smell…)

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of 9/11. As in years past, I would like to take a moment to remember my dear friend, Berry, who was on the first plane that struck the World Trade Center. I still love and miss her and think of her often! I find it hard to believe that ten years has gone by…as I reflect on the years, it saddens me even more to think that so many lives have been lost in vain. I don’t think we, as a nation, are safer than we were ten years ago.

(Setting lizards free…)

(Roman and Kyle)

(Margie and Chris)

(Ann and Michael)

Two wars are still on-going, Iraq and Afghanistan, with no sign of an end. The Middle East is going through tumultuous times. Terrorist threats are still ubiquitous; politics are even more contentious and divided; and the world’s economy seems to be waning. Truly a sad state of affairs…

Berry and Coot
(Berry and Coot)

I’m in the process of renewing my contract another year. Unfortunately, because I’m renewing for only one year (as opposed to two), I am no longer eligible for home leave. As such, I won’t be returning to the states over Christmas.

(Berry Perkins)

My doors are always open to anyone who wants to come to Vietnam! We would love to have you.

Much love to all,

1 comment to Another Day in the Life

  • Mark Sunday

    Generally, the term Developmentally Disabled is a more polite term than Mentally Retarded.

    I can only imagine the despair faced by the children at the orphanage. The images of the teen girl with a missing limb, and the infant with a cleft lip haunt me. Here, cleft lip is so easily corrected. And the teenaged girl could have such a normal and rewarding life here. I can’t begin to imagine how heart wrenching it would be to visit those children, and then return home to rooms filled with iPods, soft clean beds, and a kitchen full of food.

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