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Improving Health Systems Vietnam

Making History With Safety and Care

Improving Health Systems Vietnam

Making History With Safety and Care


After many years of working together to improve safe surgical care in Vietnam, Operation Smile and Vietnam’s Ministry of Health proudly shared a major milestone for both the organization and country.

At a conference held in Hanoi, Vietnam, on April 2, 2019, Operation Smile Vice President for Development, Asia Pacific Viet Nguyen joined Operation Smile Co-Founders, Dr. Bill Magee and Kathy Magee, to announce the establishment of eight new guidelines for patient safety.

Co-created by Operation Smile and Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, the guidelines signify the first time in a 37-year history that Operation Smile has partnered with a national government to directly influence public health policy.

The standards for safe surgery will impact the entire country, improving the level of care that patients and families receive. The guidelines will be available for adoption at 1,450 medical facilities in 63 provinces, potentially affecting up to three million surgeries per year.

“We are so excited about the implementation of safe surgical care that we have collaborated with the Ministry of Health of Vietnam,” Kathy said. “It is a momentous occasion for all of us because, over these 30 years, we’ve been able to enhance the health policy across that nation.”

The announcement underscored the power of collaboration toward a common goal to the 400 people in the audience, including representatives from Vietnam’s health ministry and health care system, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, the Lancet Commission, G4 Alliance and Safe Surgery 2020.

“I can remember, since day one, we have had patient safety at the very core of what we’re about. So, beginning with patient safety and excellence was natural,” Bill said. “But now, side by side with the Vietnamese, all of us are striving to provide the care that we would really want for our own families, for our own children.”

Vice Minister of the Vietnam Ministry of Health, Professor Dr. Nguyen Viet Tien, expressed his gratitude toward this collaboration and how the guidelines will impact his country.

"My thanks to Operation Smile over the past many years. You have brought a lot of humanitarian support to children all over Vietnam. Thank you for your support and thank you for coming here. We appreciate you,” Dr. Nguyen said. “Operation Smile has strengthened the relationship between Vietnam and the United States and brought our diplomatic relationship to a new level. We look forward to continuing our work together for safe surgery."

Associate Professor Dr. Luong Ngoc Khue, left, Director of Medical Services Administration Department of Vietnam's Ministry of Health; Kathy Magee, right, Operation Smile Co-Founder and President; Dr. Bill Magee, Operation Smile Co-Founder and CEO; and Professor Dr. Nguyen Viet Tien, Vice Minister of Vietnam's Ministry of Health, pose together for a photo. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

In 1989, Operation Smile became the first U.S. nonprofit to be welcomed back into Vietnam following decades of conflict between the nations. Kathy and Bill were honored to see Vietnamese families and children welcome many diverse cultures and nations into their home country.

“The power that children have to bring us together is remarkable. And today, here we are working together to make our world a better world,” Bill said.

“Thank you Vietnam. We are so proud to be a part of your country and the things that you want for the health care of your people,” Kathy said.

Dr. John Meara said that the implementation of the guidelines marks an important step toward advancing surgical and anesthesia care in both Vietnam and the Southeast Asia region. Dr. Meara is a co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, Director of Harvard Medical School’s Program in Global Surgery and Social Change and Plastic Surgeon-in-Chief at Boston Children’s Hospital.  

“I am so impressed by the way Vietnam has improved its health care systems, where resources are mobilized not only from government, but also by civil society,” Dr. Meara said. “Thank you also to Operation Smile for its involvement in this global effort. And we are excited to see more organizations join in promoting the cause of surgery for all.”

But the news that Operation Smile and Vietnam’s Ministry of Health shared at the conference is only the beginning.

“We realize that we (Operation Smile and Vietnam’s Ministry of Health) are the very bedrock of the future. With our worldwide group of volunteers and the image that the Vietnamese Ministry of Health has propagated, we will be standing on a platform together to implement these values to surgical care for our entire world,” Bill said. “And we are honored to be a part of that.”

Representatives from Operation Smile, Vietnam's Ministry of Health, Medical Services Administration and affiliated global health partners pose for a photo during the conference in Vietnam. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.


It takes as little as $240 and as few as 45 minutes to provide life-changing surgery and a bright, beautiful new smile to a waiting child.