“The moment Flight C17 landed at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi after flying from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, touched me the most. The joy of returning to the Fatherland and my family after nearly 18 months away overwhelmed my comrades and I.”
Staff at the Level-2 Field Hospital No 2 receive online training on COVID-19 prevention and control. (Source: Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations)
Hanoi, May 5 (VNA) - “The moment Flight C17 landed at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi after
flying from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, touched me the most. The joy of returning
to the Fatherland and my family after nearly 18 months away overwhelmed my comrades
So said Major Cao Thuy Dung, Chief Nurse at the Level-2 Field Hospital No
2, after returning to Vietnam on April 24 together with other hospital staff.
After taking on a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan in November 2019, the Level-2 Field Hospital No 2 had to
extend its stay, scheduled for one year, to nearly 18 months due to the COVID-19
pandemic and the difficulties that came with it.
However, with great will and determination, the “blue beret” medical soldiers
overcame the difficulties and completed their mission.
“When we heard that the hospital and its staff would be staying longer in
the area, many of us felt depressed,” Captain and Dr Nguyen Viet Phuong, Head
of the Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases Department and Head of the
Level-2 Field Hospital No 2’s COVID-19 Treatment Team, told the Vietnam News
Agency. “I didn’t know when I would return to my family and the motherland. But,
as soldiers, we pulled ourselves together and clearly defined our new mission. We
understood that it is common for UN peacekeeping mission to extend their tours in
normal conditions, so doing so during a pandemic was nothing out of the
Overcoming the difficulties from COVID-19
COVID-19 first hit South Sudan in April 2020 and the Level-2 Field Hospital
No 2 faced a shortage of medical equipment and supplies from the outset.
Cargo from Vietnam began to dry up, while local resupply was not possible
because of South Sudan’s border closures and the suspension of international and
South Sudan had been heavily damaged by a decade of conflict, with people
facing difficult lives and poor health conditions. The country was already quite
fragile before the COVID-19 “tsunami” struck.
“We had to save every single mask and piece of medicine to ensure pandemic
prevention and patient treatment, and we knew that patient numbers would increase
sharply as the pandemic spread,” said Lieutenant Colonel and Dr Vo Van Hien, Director
of the Level-2 Field Hospital No. 2.
Vietnam’s second Level-2 Field Hospital is located
at Bentiu, a site that protects civilians and is known for its difficulties. Here,
UN officers are constantly rotated between units, so could potentially carry disease
and infect others. Insufficient facilities and medical equipment to screen for disease
made the situation even worse, not to mention that environmental hygiene was generally
Given these hardships, the Level-2 Field Hospital
No 2 established a quarantine camp with the necessary medical equipment, which
stood ready to perform emergency medical procedures and receive and treat COVID-19
“Despite the insufficiencies and hardships, the
hospital’s hotline remained open 24/7, so that all cases could be reported,” said
The hospital frequently organised training sessions
and drills for emergency situations, created a safety protocol for all staff and
officers at the hospital, and drafted combat readiness plans to save the unit as
well as its officers and staff in case danger presented itself.
Recalling one unforgettable memory from his 18 months
at Bentiu, when a Mongolian officer was diagnosed with pleural tuberculosis, Dr
Nguyen Viet Phuong said that according to UN protocols, the officer should have
been transferred to a higher level hospital or even sent home. But given the
circumstances, he had to remain in the country and was treated at the hospital.
His condition improved significantly with the necessary treatment.
That delighted not only the patient but also the
entire Mongolian battalion, who all expressed their appreciation towards the Vietnamese
“He was the longest-staying patient in the department,”
said Dr Phuong. “Given the lack of equipment, we all worked together to provide
him with the best treatment we could.”
According to Dr Hien, the Level-2 Field Hospital
No 2 received a lot of compliments from the UN Mission’s management units in Juba
and Bentiu for the medical services it provided.
Determined to fulfil the assigned mission
Now safely back in Vietnam, hospital staff will never forget their days in
such harsh working conditions.
Dr Nguyen Van Quynh teaches the medical staff at Bentiu Hospital in South Sudan how to use the anaesthesia equipment. (Source: Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations)
The emergence of the global pandemic quickly become the greatest challenge
for all UN peacekeeping operations around the world and especially in South Sudan.
There were times the hospital’s staff felt confused and concerned as the
political and security situation in the local area became tense and the pandemic
more complex, or when members of the hospital or relatives back home became sick.
All had a significant influence on the mental well-being of staff.
Amid the hardships and challenges, however, the “blue beret” medical soldiers
united to overcome the circumstances and fulfil the noble international mission
of preserving peace - a new but lofty mission for the Vietnam People’s Army.
“At Bentiu, despite the many difficulties we faced, such as the pandemic,
being away from home in a harsh environment for a long period of time, and
facing shortages of materials, we always bore in mind the traditions of the Vietnam
People’s Army over the past 76 years, with the motto ‘Every mission will be completed,
all difficulties can be overcome’,” said Senior Lieutenant and Dr Tu Quang, Head
of the Level-2 Field Hospital No. 2’s Air Rescue Team.
Wrapping up 18 months of being away from family and home, Uncle Ho’s peacetime
soldiers are extremely proud to have been part of the noble mission of the Army
and of Vietnam. In particular, contributing to the multilateral international mission
represented sacrifice and dedication on the part of Vietnam’s female soldiers.
“It is a great honour for me to be a soldier of the Vietnam People’s Army
during peacetime, taking part in international duties and contributing to protecting
the Fatherland from afar,” said Chief Nurse Major Dung. “This gave me a chance to
contribute to boosting the prestige and position of the country as well as the image
of Vietnamese women in the eyes of international friends.”/.