In 1968, the Dutch medical doctors Professor Jaap de Haas, Dr. Nick van Rhijn and Dr. Fred Groening founded the Medical Committee Netherlands-Vietnam. They were indignant about the Americans’ technological warfare in Vietnam and distressed by the suffering of the Vietnamese people. MCNV’s goal was to offer large-scale medical help to the worst hit areas in Vietnam.
In those years, the inhumane warfare in Vietnam caused great indignation all across the world and certainly in the Netherlands. It was the time of protests, demonstrations and actions, but also of “put your money where your mouth is”. Out of solidarity many Dutch people donated money. In 1973, MCNV had 67,000 donors, who had already donated a good 4 million euros. The aid initially consisted of sending medical supplies and medicines. After the Vietnam war ended in 1975, relief aid was provided for a few more years. The Dutch proved to be very inventive in thinking up solidarity campaigns, from “Musicians for Vietnam” to “Knitting for Vietnam”. By the mid-seventies, MCNV had grown into a strong organisation with two paid employees and 40 volunteers in the office in Amsterdam and 600 volunteers across the country.
In 1973, under the leadership of Nick van Rhijn, MCNV made the first plans for donating a hospital to Qunag Tri, the province hardest hit by the war. With the support of Dutch donors, the Minister for Developing Countries Jan Pronk and all the Dutch universities, which adopted parts of the hospital, building could begin in 1974. In 1977, the Holland Hospital in Dong Ha was officially opened.
Nowadays, the former hospital houses the MCNV museum. Countless posters, photographs, video- and sound fragments and a large number of objects show the history of MCNV and provide an impressive image of the protests against the Vietnam war and the massive solidarity shown by the Dutch people. The museum is a symbol of more than thirty years of cooperation between the province of Quang Tri and MCNV and the Dutch people, and is dedicated to the faithful MCNV-donors.
The museum situates in Quang Tri Secondary Medical School, Dong Luong commune, Dong Ha city, Quang Tri province, can be visited on workdays by appointment.
After the war, the horrible consequences for Vietnam became known, and MCNV, by then the largest Vietnam committee in Europe, began the battle against tuberculosis (tb) and malaria. The MCNV campaign “With 10 guilders a month you can cure a tb patient in Vietnam” marked the beginning of a 25-year campaign against tuberculosis, during which MCNV worked closely with the large tb hospitals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. From 1983 onwards, MCNV collaborated with the Royal Central Association for the Battle against Tuberculosis, and tb experts Dr. Jaap Broekmans and Dr. Nguyen Dinh Huong lay the foundations for the New National Programme against tb. A study on identifying and treating tb patients resulted in an extremely successful method to battle tuberculosis, which is now standardly used all across the world.
In 1987, an epidemic of the very dangerous brain-malaria broke out, leading to renewed attention for the battle against malaria. With the financial support of the Ministry of Developing Countries, MCNV introduced Permetrhine to drive the mosquitoes out of the houses. MCNV studies also showed that mosquito-netting impregnated with Permetrhine were effective, and seven years after MCNV began distributing them, 10 million Vietnamese were already sleeping under the nets. The treatment and especially the prevention of the mosquito spread diseases malaria and dengue (knuckle fever) became one of the most important MCNV projects in the nineteen-nineties.
Read more: Ron Marchand looks back at thirty years of fighting malaria in MCNV Magazine 2016 – 3.
Opportunities for everyone
When the Vietnamese government opened its boundaries for foreign investors with its Doi Moi politics and the American trade embargo was lifted in 1994, the Vietnamese economy started to boom. The country developed on various fronts, so that the future for a large part of the population now looks rosy, but at the same time the difference between rich and poor is growing, and in remote areas there are still millions of people living in poverty and without access to education and good (medical) care. Since the nineteen-nineties, MCNV has turned its attention to these people, who cannot yet reap the benefits of progress.
In 1997, the southern coastal province of Ben Tre was hit by a typhoon, claiming many casualties out on the sea and destroying hundreds of thousands of houses. This prompted MCNV to begin offering small loans to the bereaved women, enabling them to start up modest businesses to better provide for themselves. MCNV has further developed and spread the system of micro-credit (revolving funds), in close collaboration with the Women’s Union.
Taking responsibility for one’s own health became the aim of the Community Managed Health Development project. In about 300 villages in the province of Quang Tri, projects were carried out in which the villagers made their own plans to improve their circumstances. This approach is now supported by MCNV in many places, its goal: health and an improved standard of living.
Capacity building, the training of doctors and nurses for medical posts in remote areas, was another fixed value in the work of MCNV. In addition, cooperation networks were set up in the poorest regions of Vietnam and Lao PDR, between health, education and agricultural services and – even more importantly – the inhabitants themselves.
MCNV has offices in Vietnam, Lao PDR and the Netherlands, with Vietnamese and Laotian staff members and Dutch experts. MCNV can carry on with its work thanks to the support of its loyal donors in the Netherlands and grants from among others the EU, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, USAID and various equity funds and family trusts.
Read more: Click here to read a brief summary of the history of MCNV (pdf)