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Nikkei Asia Prizes

Nikkei Asia Prizes 2018: The man who lowered Vietnam's child mortality rate

Nguyen Thanh Liem's pioneering efforts in pediatrics range from transplants to gene therapy

Nguyen Thanh Liem, center, has helped raise younger generations of Vietnamese doctors on high-tech surgical techniques.

Winner for science and technology

Nguyen Thanh Liem

Director, Vinmec Research Institute of Stem Cell and Gene Technology

HANOI -- The Vietnam National Children's Hospital, located in the heart of Hanoi, is not only the premier center for pediatric medicine in Vietnam, it is also one of the largest facility of its kind in Southeast Asia, with 1,000 beds and some 400 doctors who treat about 4,000 children a day.

The hospital is a testament to how far the country has advanced in the field of pediatric medicine. And the driving force behind it all is Dr. Nguyen Thanh Liem, who has been called the father of pediatric medicine in Vietnam.

Liem is credited with performing Asia's first laparoscopic surgery on a child. A minimally invasive procedure that involves making small incisions in the abdomen, laparoscopic surgery is widely used for adults, but it is more difficult to perform on children because of their smaller bodies and closely placed organs. When Liem conducted that first surgery in 1997, it was only just starting to be performed in Europe.

Thanks in part to his efforts, Vietnam's childhood mortality rate from disease has plunged.

Liem has also played a key role in advancing Vietnam's organ-transplant technologies and improving the network of organ donors. It was Liem who performed the country's first kidney, liver and bone marrow transplants.

As the director of the Vinmec Research Institute of Stem Cell and Gene Technology, he is currently investigating treatments for cerebral palsy, autism and other diseases that might benefit from stem-cell and gene therapy.

"My mission is to help as many suffering children as possible," Liem said.

From training the staff to creating the organizational structure, Liem has personally spearheaded the push to transform the National Children's Hospital into a cutting-edge center of pediatric medicine. There, a new generation of doctors is learning how to elevate medical care to a higher level in Vietnam.

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