Dr Lam Minh Yen: At the Forefront of Change

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Dr Lam Minh Yen is one of the top tropical disease specialists in the world and a full-time doctor at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Prior to that, she was the Vice Director at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, a position she held until February 2016.

Dr Yen is a visionary who has a strong commitment to advance human knowledge and well-being. She received her Masters of Science in Internal Medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia in 2001 through the Australia Awards Scholarship (formerly known as Australian Development Scholarships) - an initiative by the Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which aims to help train future leaders and contribute to the long term human development needs of its developing country partners. 

Returning home after graduation, Dr Yen pioneered changes that drastically reduced the mortality rate for tetanus at the hospital from 20-30 per cent in 1998 to 2 per cent in 2012. The number would be higher were it not for the work of Dr Yen, which is also an achievement she is most proud of.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications Officer, Advance  

Challenges in the eradication of Tetanus

Tetanus is preventable through the use of a vaccine. It is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases as it is not contagious. The bacteria are usually found in soil, dust, and manure and enter the body through a wound caused by contaminated objects to develop into an infection. Vietnam is one of the many low- and middle-income countries which is prone to the disease. 

 “There are still 300-400 tetanus cases happening in Vietnam every year even though the diseases is preventable.” 

“Patients very often need to stay in hospital for 4-6 weeks which may increase the risk of contracting nosocomial infections.”

“The lives of some elderly patients cannot return to normal as they are too week," Dr Yen says when explaining the challenges she faced when pioneering new approaches to tackle the issue.

Training future doctors

Leading the movement to make effective and quality healthcare treatment accessible to the patients nationwide, Dr Yen has also provided training to a new generation of doctors and medical students each year in treating serious cases of tetanus, dengue shock syndrome, severe sepsis, hand-foot and mouth disease, infections of the central nervous systems and HIV/AIDS. Her hospital was one of the first in the city to apply international technical skills, preventing the outbreak of emerginginfectious diseases such as Ebola, MERS-CoV and Zika. 

Reflection on Australian education

Dr Yen is very grateful for the opportunity to further her study in Australia which has equipped her with critical soft skills to assist with her job. 

“Australian education taught me to be confident, independent and always have critical thinking in science.”

“It has also taught me how to approach science in the right way, especially in low-middle income country situation,” she says.

About the future

Dr Yen hopes that the healthcare system in Vietnam will be able to take a great stride to bring preventable infectious diseases to an end when talking about her career aspirations. 

“And to have a sufficient physician workforce to combat infectious diseases.”

“I am hopeful that clinical research will be able to attract and retain more doctors,” she adds. 

Dr Yen has been named an Australian Alumni Ambassador in recognition of her “considerable contribution, leadership and advancement of professional practice in the research and treatment of tropical diseases”, one of only 12 selected by the Australian Government from across the global network of more than 2.5 million alumni. 

With a rapid change in tropical disease pattern, Vietnam needs to continue to improve its healthcare system to meet the growing needs of some 88 million people. The system will hopefully be more sophisticated in the years to come, thanks in part to doctors in Vietnam like Dr Yen who is devoted to save lives through developing sustainable and accessible health care solutions to vulnerable populations, and providing medical trainings to improve the clinical skills of healthcare workers.

Dr Yen also co-wrote the “Tetanus” chapter in classical medical textbooks such as Manson’s Tropical Diseases: Textbook for Critical Care and Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine.