Underwater medicine knowledge deepened

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Sarah West (author), SGT Ray Vance (photographer)

Location(s): Vietnam

Topic(s): Submarines (SSG), Health, Fitness and Wellbeing, Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP

Royal Australian Navy Medical Officer Lieutenant Commander Douglas Falconer in front of Vietnam People's Navy Hospital Ship Khanh Hoa at the Port of Da Nang, Vietnam, during Exercise Pacific Partnership 2017. (photo: SGT Ray Vance)
Royal Australian Navy Medical Officer Lieutenant Commander Douglas Falconer in front of Vietnam People's Navy Hospital Ship Khanh Hoa at the Port of Da Nang, Vietnam, during Exercise Pacific Partnership 2017.

Two Australian Defence Force Medical Officers with specialist knowledge in underwater medicine have completed a very successful information exchange program with the Vietnam People's Armed Forces in Vietnam during Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP 2017.

Lieutenant Commander Douglas Falconer and Lieutenant Tenille Chapman, both from the Royal Australian Navy's Submarine Underwater Medicine Unit - East, worked alongside counterparts from the United States Navy during port visits to Da Nang and Nha Trang to share knowledge and experience with officers from the Vietnamese Forces.

Since 2013, the Vietnam People's Navy has commissioned six Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, giving the country a new, powerful and modern submarine fleet.

Lieutenant Chapman said submarine underwater medicine was a key area of interest during the exchange program.

"We have been doing submarine underwater medicine in Australia and the United States for a long time now, so the Vietnamese officers were very interested in hearing what we have learned and how we have adapted our practices over the years, and they were asking some great questions," Lieutenant Chapman said.

"Medicine is one of those things that transcends borders and language barriers because medical conditions don't discriminate.

“So opening up dialogue through information exchanges like this is mutually beneficial and really contributes to stronger and more meaningful Defence relationships.”

The Underwater Medicine Team also exchanged knowledge about dive specific medical conditions and treatments, the use of hyperbaric chambers to treat other conditions such as chronic wounds, and methods for treating conditions that are unique to working in a maritime environment.

"It has been a really meaningful exchange and I will certainly take away some new ideas that the Australian Defence Force may want to explore in the future on how certain conditions might be treated differently," Lieutenant Chapman said.

"The Vietnamese doctors use hyperbaric chambers to treat a much broader range of conditions than we do, so it was really interesting to hear about the successes they have had in this area.

“It has certainly provided food for thought with respect to our own applications of this sort of treatment.”

The Vietnam People's Armed Forces also invited the visitors to tour hyperbaric facilities on the Vietnam People's Navy Hospital ShipKhanh Hoa (HQ561) and at the Military Hospital in Nha Trang.

Lieutenant Commander Falconer said it was a fantastic opportunity to see the Vietnamese equipment and capabilities.

“The ship is a really capable vessel that can treat injuries and illnesses that occur as a result of submersion as well as a whole raft of other conditions," he said.

"It has two operating theatres, an intensive care facility with a high dependency unit attached to it, two dental rooms, a good little ward, pathology services and an X-ray, all on one deck of the ship.”

Lieutenant Chapman said the exchanges had undoubtedly made the international underwater medicine community stronger.

"This is a specialised field and there really aren't that many of us, so the more we can get together and share information and make meaningful connections and contacts, the better off everyone in the community will be," she said.

"This has been a really positive experience for us, and I know it has been a really positive for the Vietnam People's Armed Forces too - because they are already talking about welcoming us back next year.”

PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and aims to enhance regional coordination in areas such as medical readiness and preparedness for man-made and natural disasters.

Australia has been involved in every iteration since it was first started more than 12 years ago after the multinational Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief response to the 2004 tsunami event in Banda Aceh.