Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital

Take Can Tho multiply it by 10 add a children’s ward and you get the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital.  It is a sprawling complex of wards, radiation rooms, chemo units and surgical suites.  With 1,100 beds, their inpatient population ranges between 2,000 – 2,500 patients.   I don’t know how many outpatients they treat on a daily basis, but it is simply overwhelming.  Here the word patient takes on a whole new meaning.  People wait to see a doctor, they  wait to have treatment, they wait to use the bathroom.  It’s probably best to just show you than to try to tell you.

courtyard and main building

chemo "waiting room" or stairwell




















Waiting again

All 4 cancer hospitals in Vietnam are also teaching hospitals and our visit to the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital coincided with the Annual Vietnam Meeting on Cancer Control.   We were invited to attend the welcome dinner and all of the seminars and presentations that were scheduled over 3 days at the hospital.  We also could go anywhere we wanted to in the hospital itself.  Unfortunately because of the seminar, the staff was more overwhelmed than usual, so it was difficult to get anyone to spend time with us acting as an interpreter.  We were really fortunate that a lovely man Hoi came up to us and introduced himself in English.  His father was a patient at the hospital and he brought us to meet him.

Hoi and his parents

His father Phu had worked for the US Army during the Vietnam War.  He is now suffering from bone cancer.  Hoi and his mother stay in the hospital with him to care for him while he receives chemotherapy treatments.  His parents share the hospital bed and Hoi sleeps on the floor underneath them.  They live 450k away from HCMC in Nha Trang.  Hoi, his sister and his brother pay for his father’s transportation, hospital fees, food, and medicine and Hoi must take time off work for 2 weeks at a time to help his parents while they are in HCMC.  Hoi then introduced us to his father’s room mates and guided us around the hospital to other wards and interpreted for us.  In Nha Trang, his home town, he is a tour guide and is fluent in French, English and Vietnamese.  He is a very educated man, but in Vietnam, awareness about cancer is sorely lacking and Hoi was concerned that being by so close to so many people with cancer that he might actually catch cancer.  We assured him that was not the case.  We have communicated via email and his father was doing very well the last I heard.  I hope he still is.

Here are some photos that document what conditions are like in the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital.  I think they pretty much speak for themselves.  I just want to say that everyone there treated us with great kindness, they were open and warm and generous to us.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be a patient in these incredibly overcrowded conditions.

Regular patient room

A small section of the women’s cervical ward


















Family caregivers living in hallway


Regular patient room


















Regular patient room

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  1. Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    whoa. for as crowded as everything looks there seems to be a clean & respectful atmosphere there. best one could hope for i suppose. well documented. a bit overwhelming to see. count my blessings now………

  2. Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    One doesnt always appreciate what one has! We certainly have to give thanks. Like Colin says they it looks ‘respectful’ and calm. Bad enough having cancer and then having to cope in such an environment….. good luck to all of them!

  3. NC
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing these pictures. This is exactly why “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
    I think this used to be “Nguyen Van Hoc” Hospital back in the days when the city was known as Saigon.

    I grew up in Saigon in the 1960s and 1970s. I am now an oncologist working in the USA, so I can totally relate to this.
    Vietnamese are known to be very resilient, and yet these poor people with cancer deserve better treatment.
    The (communist) government needs to change their governing approach.

    • Posted August 5, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Thank you NC, I am trying to help the people there in any way I can. Here is a link to a video that my husband and I made while we were there. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=netkzfZYFe8

      I have just formed a NGO called Global Focus on Cancer. We are trying to create cancer awareness campaigns and support groups in countries where access to this information in critically lacking. We are heading back to CanTho and HCMC soon with a team of Dr.’s from Mt. Sinai Medical Group. I am going to help to create a cancer support group for the people of the Mekong delta.

  4. lanhuong
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    I was a MD in Nguyen van hoc(Nhan Dan gia dinh)Everyday I was seeing these overcrowed patient, almost of them so severe
    i came to US ( immigrant) and studing for another career .Unfortunatelly I have got a cancer .I am so graceful about medical program in US epecially for poor people.I think it’s time I should go back to VN and do something for poor people Anyone have opion please advice me Thank

  5. Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Such a fantastic post and your photos do such an excellent job of raising awareness, but still showing such grace and beauty in the patients. Thank you so much for your insight today and I look forward to my time spend with Dr. Thinh tomorrow. I also look forward to keeping in touch and helping with your NGO in any way I can. All the best from HCM City, Terri

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    I am a photographer living in Westchester county, NY. I have been shooting commercial advertising for the past 20 years. I recently received a small business grant from British Airways. I won 10 business class flights to any 4 destinations that BA flies. It was a contest based on a series of essays that I wrote explaining how face to face travel could change my business and help it take a more photo journalistic path. My essays talked about the fact that I am a survivor of ovarian and endometrial cancers, and that since I have been sick, I have been looking for an opportunity to travel around the world documenting photographically how women with cancer are intrinsically connected. I would like to show how our struggles, hopes, joys, and concerns have no borders. That we share a common bond, regardless of where we live around the globe. This blog is hopefully going to document this journey over the next year.

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