02/06/2013, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Catholics treat poor for free on Lunar New Year

by J.B. Vu
The Thien Thao Duong Clinic in Phan Thiết Diocese (south-central Vietnam) offers free check-ups in rural villages. Set up by Mgr Paul Nguyễn Thanh Hoan, bishop emeritus of Phan Thiet, the facility is based on traditional Vietnamese medicine, and treats some 2,000 patients per week.

Phan Thiết (AsiaNews) - A group of Catholic doctors and volunteers from the Diocese of Phan Thiết (south-central Vietnam) are planning to visit rural villages for Lunar New Year, bringing with them traditional Vietnamese drugs, food and spiritual assistance. Bishop emeritus Mgr Paul Nguyễn Thanh Hoan (pictured) founded Tu Đoàn Bác Ái Xã Hội, a charity group that teaches young Catholic nurses and doctors the importance of traditional medicine and Gospel values.

The group was set up in 1995 with ten initial members. Now it has more than 150 priests, nuns and lay people, who each year provide free check-ups in remote parts of the diocese around Lunar New Year. More recently, the prelate created the Thien Thao Duong clinic, which dispenses traditional as well as Western medicines to patients.   

"Mgr Paul decided to set up the clinic to provide free treatment for the poor," said Sister Maria, who heads the clinic. "Traditional drugs are cheaper than those made in a lab and have fewer contraindications." What is more, drugs made in labs or imported into Vietnam are often fake, too expensive or unavailable to residents of rural and mountain areas.

"The active ingredients for traditional drugs are available all over Vietnam, and nurses can make them directly in the clinic," Sister Maria explained. "Each week, more than 2,000 people visit the place, especially Buddhists and tribals. Over the period of a year, the facility can dispense US$ 25,000 worth of drugs."

People find out about the clinic through word-of-mouth. "For our nurses and doctors, it is nice to see that people not only come for the free treatment but also for the way we show care to the sick and their families."

Patients are not the only beneficiaries of Mgr Paul's charity work and that of his religious. Recently, the prelate presented plans to help villages in Phan Thiet province, to irrigate 100 hectares, and improve rice harvesting machinery.

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