QUY NHON, Vietnam - Across the globe, AIDS has reached pandemic proportions. Since the discovery of the HIV virus in 1981, some 60 million people have contracted this disease. In 2003, President George W. Bush signed landmark legislation to allow for the creation of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Research (PEPFAR), which between 2003 and 2008 allocated $5 billion for AIDS research, prevention and education.

In the years since its inception, PEPFAR has expanded to include health issues throughout the world. PEPFAR is currently playing a crucial role in Pacific Partnership 2010 by partnering with the Vietnamese government to exchange information and techniques concerning infection control, safe blood handling, nursing, and preventive medicine.

Pacific Partnership 2010, the fifth in a series of U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance endeavors, is working alongside PEPFAR for this unique forum in modern medicine.

Cmdr. Laurie Gentene, the PEPFAR representative onboard USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), and also the subject matter expert exchange (SMEE) coordinator for Pacific Partnership 2010, is facilitating the exchange of ideas.

“Infection control is the over-arching theme of this exchange with the Vietnamese,” said Gentene. “We are all working side by side in developing and implementing an effective infection control program. This encompasses a gamut of things, from sweeping floors to safer methods of blood handling.”

Vietnamese delegates from the medical department of the Ministry of Defense toured Mercy’s blood bank, pathology labs and spoke with nurses aboard to exchange ideas concerning various topics such as thawing of frozen blood, blood cleaning, and preventive medicine techniques. The officials, who are all medical professionals, worked alongside the multi-national staff during the visit.

“The Vietnamese delegates are very eager to learn,” said Capt. (Dr.) Tan Nguyen, a pathologist with the United States Public Health Service, and the officer-in-charge for coordinating the event. “Whether it was thawing frozen blood, patient-nurse relations, or utilizing modern medical equipment, the delegates were like sponges, soaking up all the information. It would be a pleasure to work alongside these highly-skilled professionals any time.”

During the visit, the Vietnamese delegates were appreciative of the opportunity to take part in this forum.

“On behalf of the Medical Department of the Ministry of Defense, thank you. We are glad to be here. Our mission is not only focused with military relations, but to share experience and to learn,” said Senior Col. (Dr.) Do Van Binh, the leading officer in the delegation. “The two topics of infection control and nursing are very important to Vietnam right now. Infection is a big issue in hospitals right now. Sometimes it is more fatal than the actual disease.”

Along with the exchange of medical practices and ideas, the forum also provided a means to strengthen ties between the U.S., Vietnam, and other partner nations.

“We also bring our friendship, not only for now, but also for the future,” said Binh. “This is a good opportunity to share and to help out people.”

Binh also stated that he was impressed by the organization, patient flow and the up-to-date medical equipment aboard Mercy. He also had a recommendation for the ship.

“One recommendation is that we would like to see the crew and ship many times in the future,” Binh said.

The visit also provided a sense of cultural appreciation to the crew of Mercy. Nguyen, who emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam, was especially pleased with the visit.

“Our counterparts have made us feel like a big family,” said Nguyen. “Some of the junior officers were calling me ‘older brother’ earlier today. Interacting and learning with professionals from my native land has been amazing. It is truly a very meaningful experience.”

Pacific Partnership will conclude humanitarian and civic assistance efforts in Vietnam June 12.